CINCINNATI - A new report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General disputes two specific whistleblower allegations against Dr. Barbara Temeck, former chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, while ignoring dozens of others.
The report, posted on the OIG's website Wednesday afternoon, rejected whistleblower claims that Dr. Temeck's cost cutting led to a 2014 incident in which a patient suffered a delay in intubation to treat his breathing problems. The report also found “no deficiencies” in Dr. Temeck’s “clinical practice” and credentialing “from the time of her arrival in 2013 through the last completed 2-year credentialing in 2015.”
That finding partially addresses whistleblower claims that Dr. Temeck was paid extra for her duties as a cardio-thoracic surgeon, but didn’t act as a lead surgeon. The VA’s answer: She “participated in thoracic surgery cases but limited her role to that of a surgical second assistant.” The report did not address whether Dr. Temeck was appropriately paid.
The VA did substantiate one whistleblower claim: That the hospital improperly stored clean and dirty patient care equipment, including wheelchairs, in the same place.
The report responds to three of the 11 questions Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown asked in February 2016 following a joint investigation by the Scripps Washington Bureau and WCPO. Brown, a Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, cited “press reports” about “disturbing allegations regarding the quality of patient care, nepotism and mismanagement” at the Cincinnati VA. And he asked the inspector general for a “prompt release” of investigative reports.
Fourteen months later, Brown said the VA is still investigating some remaining issues, but he’s confident the Cincinnati hospital is improving.
“We expect to see significant improvements in personnel, practices, sterilized instruments, all the things where they’ve fallen short over the last few years at what has generally been a really good veteran’s hospital,” he said.
As Scripps and WCPO reported three months ago, the Cincinnati VA is recovering from months of controversy that began when a group of whistleblowers went public with allegations of mismanagement, cost cutting and quality of care problems at the health care system for more roughly 43,000 Tri-State veterans:
- Hundreds of instances in which dirty surgical equipment reached VA operating rooms, including a 2013 case in which a “fibrous strand” was left in the eye of a Korean War veteran.
- A quadrupling since 2013 of Cincinnati VA infection rates from the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA. Cincinnati’s most recent MRSA rate is worse than 90 percent of VA hospitals nationwide.
- A Marine Corps veteran who waited five months for an orthopedic doctor to correctly diagnose his broken arm before it was finally repaired in surgery.
- A Vietnam War veteran whose treatment for an injured back got lost in a bureaucratic quagmire.
None of those issues were addressed in the report released Wednesday.
The VA has recruited Army veterans to four of its top leadership posts in Cincinnati and invested millions in a new sterile processing facility to clean surgical equipment. Last week, the VA placed the hospital’s former chief of staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, on indefinite suspension without pay. Her attorney, Kenneth Hawley, is appealing that suspension. He argues it's in retaliation for her own activities as a whistleblower trying to "correct serious issues of waste and mismanagement" in the VA's relationship with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
"We expect that, eventually, Dr. Temeck’s name and reputation will be cleared of all the retaliatory allegations that have been made against her by this group of retaliators," Hawley said.
The VA demoted Dr. Temeck after an internal investigation substantiated a whistleblower allegation that she improperly prescribed painkillers for the wife of her former boss, Jack Hetrick. He retired after the VA told the former Network Director that it would initiate procedures to fire him.