VA Secretary Visits Manchester Facility, Pledges $30 Million Upgrade

MANCHESTER, N.H. (CBS/AP) — The nation’s top Veterans Affairs official visited the Manchester VA Medical Center and promised that his agency will spend $30 million to fix the facility’s problems.

Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs David Shulkin also met with a dozen whistleblowers at the hospital. After the meeting they said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the situation at New Hampshire’s only hospital for veterans.

Those whistleblowers reported a fly-infested operating room, surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized, and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly. They also accused administrators of essentially dismantling the hospital’s cardiology and surgical programs.

In response to those reports, Shulkin recently removed the hospital’s top two leaders and ordered a review after the Boston Globe reported on a whistleblower complaint filed by physicians. He also has ordered the VA’s inspector general to launch its own investigation and plans to meet with the state’s congressional delegation at the hospital Friday.

In a town hall meeting last month, veterans complained to Manchester VA’s Interim Director Alfred Montoya about shoddy care, misdiagnoses and frustration over inadequate mental health services. They also said they would give him a chance after he told the crowd about several measures he already has taken.

Those include an analysis of services not provided at the Manchester facility, recruiting a part-time cardiologist and opening a center that helps veterans who have problems accessing Choice, which offers them federally paid medical care outside the VA.

Several doctors said they have little confidence the inspector general’s investigation will be a “separate, wholly independent review” as Shulkin put it. They want a third-party investigation from the start, not just an outside panel to review the VA’s conclusions.

Ahead of the meeting, the whistleblowers put out a list of items they plan to discuss with Shulkin, including complaints that there is a toxic working environment in Manchester and that the problems are tied to issues at the VA nationally.

They also want a top-to-bottom assessment of all management at the Manchester VA and assurances that the hiring of a chief of staff and medical director will be transparent and include input from staff. And they want several staffers fired and for Manchester to become a full-service hospital. They oppose any push to combine it with the facilities in White River Junction.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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