Beckley VA Director responds to recent whistleblower story
BECKLEY, WV (WOAY-TV) – The Director of the Beckley VA Medical Center responded today to allegations that hospital staff continue to harass a former employee who claims her was terminated in 2014 for whistleblowing.
According to an article published August 9 by the Communities Digital News website, Russell Martin’s attorney, Jenny Bonham, sent a letter to Director Stacy Vasquez recently outlining the allegations: “This correspondence is intended to put Beckley VAMC on notice that your continued harassment of my client, Russell Martin will not be tolerated,” Bonham wrote. “Mr. Martin is a veteran, union representative and former employee who was terminated for blowing the whistle on egregious behavior.”
(See article below for more background information on this story.)
Today, Vasquez sent an email to WOAY responding to the allegations. She claims that the hospital is following guidelines outlined in a 2014 investigation by the OSC, that she has no knowledge of Martin being harassed now and that the hospital has been compliant with the recommendations since she took over as director in October 2016.
Here is her email and a link to the OSC report:
Below are the conclusions to the OSC report (link below) along with the 2014 recommendations and our actions which have been completed for quite some time. I do not have any information to know who the whistleblower was that made these allegations and no one on the current leadership team has knowledge of the identity of the whistleblower. My intent is to care for every Veteran that comes to the Beckley VAMC. I would have no reason to know about anything that Mr. Martin may or may not have reported as a whistleblower. I was assigned as the Director in October 2016. During my tenure as Director, there have not been efforts to influence prescribers utilizing the prescriptions they determine are the best for the patients’ care. It was very important that we utilized the lessons learned from the 2014 report which we absolutely completed and have maintained.
- Immediately stop the practice of automatically removing patients from VANF
medications (without a legitimate clinical need) initiated by an authorized provider at
another VA medical facility, when a patient transfers their care to the Medical
Center. Response: Completed in 2015
- Immediately stop the practice of automatically removing Medical Center patients
from VANF medications (specifically, aripirazole or ziprasidone) without a legitimate
clinical need. Response: Completed in 2015
- Conduct a clinical care review of the condition and medical records of all patients
who were discontinued from aripirazole or ziprasidone, following the decision of the
P& T Committee on April 25, 2013, to restrict use of these medications, to ascertain
whether any adverse patient outcomes occurred as a result of discontinuance of the
medication. Response: Completed in 2015
- Upon completion of above review, if adverse events are identified related to a
patient’s clinical care, appropriate disclosures should be made, consistent with the
requirements of VHA Handbook 1004.08, Disclosure of Adverse Events to patients.
Response: Completed – there were not any adverse events
- Where warranted, appropriate action should be taken against Medical Center
leadership and the P& T Committee for approving actions that were not consistent
with VHA policy on VANF management and may constitute a substantial and
specific risk to public health. Response: Completed
- Educate Medical Center leadership and the P&T Committee on the policy and
procedure requirements outlined in VHA Handbook 1108.05 and 1108.08. Response: Completed in 2015
- Improve local policy making and medication oversight by designating a physician as
chairperson of the P&T Committee and the Chief of Pharmacy as secretary. Response: Completed – we have physician chair.
Stacy J. Vasquez
Director, Beckley VA Medical Center
Alleged whistleblower retaliation continues at Beckley VA
WASHINGTON (BY: MICHAEL VOLPE, COMMDIGINEWS.com) -Despite the Medical Director Stacy Vasquez of the Beckley VA Medical Center saying any issues at that hospital were in the past, a letter from the attorney of yet another whistleblower suggests retaliation continues.
“This correspondence is intended to put Beckley VAMC on notice that your continued harassment of my client, Russell Martin will not be tolerated,” a letter from attorney Jenny Bonham to Beckley VA Medical Center Director Stacy Vasquez from July 21, 2017. “Mr. Martin is a veteran, union representative and former employee who was terminated for blowing the whistle on egregious behavior.”
In 2014, Martin reported to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that “pharmacists routinely and improperly reject providers prescriptions in favor of less expensive medications, and clinical pharmacy specialists working in the clinics exceed their scope of practice,” according to the Office of Medical Inspections (OMI) report completed in 2015; OSC referred the matter to OMI for investigation.
The OSC is a federal government agency which handles whistleblower complaints while the OMI “addresses health care problems to monitor and improve the quality of care provided by VHA (Veteran Health Administration)” according to its site.
Three business days after this initial disclosure, Martin was told he was being investigated for sexual assault.
Though a subsequent criminal investigation found the allegation meritless, the hospital still convened an Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) which ultimately terminated Martin.
An AIB is an internal VA process which investigates alleged VA employee wrongdoing.
The retaliation persists to this day, according to Benham’s letter.
“Recent defamatory comments by Director (Stacy) Vasquez to the union president, such as, ‘you really don’t want him as your poster child’.” Bonham also said in the letter, “Her comments were contrary to the findings of the OIG, and again painted him as a sexual predator.”
In an interview last month with this reporter, Vasquez pushed back against previous CDN reports painting the hospital as in chaos and retaliating against whistleblowers.
Vasquez stated that any issues occurred before she took over in October 2016.
But the whistleblower retaliation continues, Bonham also stated in the letter that Martin is harassed when he gets treated medically at the hospital.
“Mr. Martin has been routinely subjected to glares, whispers, and the rumor mill when he attends medical appointments,” Bonham said in the letter.
Martin has also been labeled disruptive: “It is my understanding that the agency has encouraged individuals to file complaints to the disruptive behaviors committee about Martin which appears to be aimed at limiting his access to the facility.”
As CDN has documented, labeling whistleblowers as “disruptive” appear to be part of a pattern of whistleblower retaliation in the Veterans Administration.
Both Heather Camren- a whistleblower at the Hines VA- and Sean Higgins- a whistleblower at the Memphis VA- were labeled disruptive in disciplinary actions taken by hospitals; both Camren and Higgins have said the actions were taken as part of retaliatory campaigns.
Though Martin has been subjected to a sustained campaign against his character, OMI substantiated his allegations.
“VA substantiated that the Medical Center’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee encouraged providers to switch Veterans from aripiprazole or ziprasidone prescribed by other Veteran Health Administration providers, based on a Pharmacy cost-savings goal for the fiscal year 2013 related to atypical anti-psychotics.”
There also appears to be a conflict of interest in the AIB against Martin.
The AIB was convened by then Medical Director Karin McGraw, even though Martin implicated McGraw in the pharmacy policy.
Vasquez issued this statement: “As a fellow Veteran and medical center director it is both VA’s and my personal mission to provide all Veteran patients with access to exceptional health care, which we will continue to provide.
“As a fellow Veteran and medical center director it is both VA’s and my personal mission to provide all Veteran patients with access to exceptional health care, which we will continue to provide.
“Due to restrictions with human resources and privacy laws I am not able to provide a response to the specific allegations made by this former employee.”