MARION — U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, along with a congressional colleague, called on U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to make changes in the human resources department at the Marion VA Medical Center, according to a news release from Bost’s office.
The call for change came in a letter to Shulkin, co-signed with Jack Bergman, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
“We want our best possible care for our heroes, our veterans who are owed that care,” Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro, said.
Kevin Harris, of the Office of Public Affairs at Marion VA Medical Center, responded with the following statement in an email:
“Secretary Shulkin has made clear his drive for real change and fixing problems at VA. As a result, we’re taking steps aggressively to identify risks and vulnerabilities across the department before they grow into real problems.
“When we believe facilities need extra attention — such as in Marion — they receive it promptly. VA has sent multiple teams to Marion to assess and support the facility. The teams have made recommendations to positively impact personnel and morale concerns, improve accountability and strengthen communication structures. The Marion VA has been actively implementing these recommendations. In fact, the Marion VA has already addressed 97 percent of the action items associated with review team recommendations.”
Bost said this is not the first time he's requested this specific action be taken at the Marion VA Medical Center. His concerns include problems in personnel morale, no continuing education, no clear job descriptions and no follow-up to make sure duties are being performed. He said the problems endanger operations.
“It is a problem that can be traced to the HR director,” Bost said.
In early 2017, the committee on oversight investigated the situation. Rodney Williams, VHA Chief Patient Safety and Risk Awareness officer and director, signed a report dated May 31, 2017 that called for an evaluation of all senior staff and a re-assessment of the culture of the facility by Marion VA Medical Center Director Jo Ann Ginsburg.
Another recommendation made in the report is to determine why several key recommendations from a 2008 investigation by the office of the inspector general were not initiated, specifically stating that individuals named in the 2008 report “appear to still be in leadership positions.” The 2008 report specifically addressed facility leadership.
“After seeing the concerns, Jack Bergmann and myself signed a letter specifically asking for the human resources director to be removed,” Bost said.
Wednesday's letter is a follow-up to the original letter sent in June with a goal of curing long-term problems at the facility.
The newest letter, dated Jan. 23, reads: “A persistent root cause of issues like prolonged difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, failures to track and enforce training standards, and the inability to discipline misbehaving employees is an absence of strong HR leadership and staff.”
Harris said some personnel changes were made in 2017, including appointments of a new medical center director, associate director, chief of staff, chief of extended care and rehab, chief of medicine, chief of engineering and chief of surgery.
“These key leaders add stability and direction to the growing team of VA health care professionals. In fiscal year 2017, the medical center hired 260 employees. To date, 65 positions have been filled in fiscal year 2018,” Harris said in the email.
In addition, a job fair in December drew more than 350 applicants, including 15 who have already been hired. Additional job fair applicants are expected to be hired in clinical and administrative professions.
Harris wrote that the Marion VAMC director has been diligently working for several months to address all concerns and recommendations. Additionally, the facility leadership team has worked aggressively to receive open feedback from all employees, improve communication, and develop and implement an action plan to train supervisors at all levels in order to promote a consistent leadership framework.
“The Marion VAMC leadership team has openly welcomed all review teams, as we always strive to improve our care and our processes so we can provide the highest quality care to our Veterans,” the email reads.
“Remember, the job is to make sure the best medical services are provided to our veterans. This is a recommendation that is required to get those best services provided again,” Bost said.