VA in Connecticut avoids wait-time scandal, but insects plague for 8 years; gives big raises
Federal healthcare facilities for veterans in Connecticut are facing their own problems, separate from an ongoing national wait-time scandal, with longstanding concerns over "intrusion of insects" in operating rooms and other cleanliness issues.
Meanwhile, some highly-compensated VA doctors received raises exceeding $30,000 last year.
The national scandal, compounded by revelations of employee bonuses while veterans suffered extended delays for appointments, led to the resignation of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki last week.
VA employees in Connecticut received modest bonuses in recent years, but some doctors stand out for getting large raises last year.
Sixteen VA employees in Connecticut, all doctors, earned more than $300,000 last year, according to transparency website OpenTheBooks.com. Three of the 16 top-paid employees received large raises of more than 10 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Dr. Ashutosh Pathak received a $47,561 raise last year – going from a salary of $280,703 to $328,267 – or a 16.9 percent increase.
Dr. Steven Pfau received an increase of $36,923 (12.8 percent), while Dr. Albert Perrino received an increase of $33,295 (11.3 percent).
Pamela Redmond, spokeswoman for the VA in Connecticut, said the three doctors are "physicians in scarce medical specialties."
"They include an interventional cardiologist, a radiologist and an anesthesiologist. Salaries for these physicians were increased to remain competitive with compensation offered in the private sector," Redmond said. "This increase was supported by regional independent salary survey data. The increases were reviewed and ultimately approved beyond the healthcare system at the VA regional level."
Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com, said high pay at the VA contrasts in many cases with poor service for veterans.
"Salary and bonus data at OpenTheBooks.com shows clear evidence that the bureaucracy served the bureaucracy, not veterans," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com. "During the last seven years, the national VA system spent $136 billion on salaries and hundreds of millions on bonuses and veterans still had trouble seeing a doctor. It’s not question of money, but a systemic leadership problem."
Last month, the VA Office of Inspector General issued a scathing interim report focused on wait times in Phoenix. The VA in Connecticut has avoided problems with prolonged waits. However, in February, the same agency reported on insect problems and cleanliness in the operating room.
"Flying and crawling insects have been an ongoing problem in the OR for about 8 years," the report says. Staff told inspectors insect problems are seasonal and some believed the overnight cleaning staff ate food in the OR, contributing to the problem.
Complaints from employees in an anonymous survey prompted the review of operating room cleanliness at the VA’s West Haven campus.
"Cleanliness of the OR could not be assured," the report says, citing inadequate staff and poor oversight. "Although our findings substantiated an increased risk to patients and staff, we found no conclusive evidence that the environment of care deficiencies in the OR resulted in negative patient outcomes."
"Staff reported that when they arrived for the first cases of the day, they often found indications that rooms had not been terminally cleaned the previous evening. For example, they would find debris and dust on the floor under furniture and equipment, indicating that the furniture and equipment had not been moved to accommodate terminal cleaning," the report says. "Also, trash was not emptied, and restrooms were not clean."
One overnight cleaning position remained vacant from January 2013 at least until inspectors visited last summer. The vacancy reduced the cleaning crew from three to two employees. Attendance problems also contributed to problems, with one in five members of the cleaning staff noting report to work "on an average workday."
Facility managers said human resources "has not been responsive in filling vacancies."
"The human resources manager confirmed that delays within his department were a contributing factor and that they recently had been resolved," the report says.
According to OpenTheBooks.com, the top-paid human resources manager in West Haven – with a salary of about $130,000 – received a $5,000 bonus last year, the second-largest award in Connecticut last year.
"The report is a thorough and honest snapshot from an inspection that occurred in June 2013," Connecticut VA officials said in a statement after the release of the report. "The IG report states that it found no evidence that the environment of care deficiencies in the OR resulted in negative patient outcomes."
The same statement said the VA fixed many problems before inspectors left the facility.
A September 2013 report found "community showers or restrooms on three of five inpatient units inspected were not clean." According to the report, management immediately responded to the concerns.
Other recent inspector general reports made minor recommendations without finding serious problems.
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