President Barack Obama is visiting the Phoenix VA hospital this Friday, and he has asked to meet with AFGE Local 2382 President Louis Curry and staff when he’s there.
According to the White House, President Obama wants to hear about improvements made and what the VA can do better. The Phoenix VA hospital was at the center of the nation-wide secret-wait list scandal that rocked the VA and cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job.
“I’m going to talk to him about understaffing. We are still extremely understaffed,” Curry said. The facility serves more than 80,000 veterans in central Arizona. It has about 2,700 employees and are hundreds of employees short.
Understaffing was one of the main reasons that led to the cover up of the long list of veterans waiting for care. Instead of hiring more doctors, nurses and other staff, local management shifted funds to other projects. A report by the Inspector General’s Office held former hospital Director Sharon Helman responsible for falsifying records and covering up the delays in patient care. VA terminated her for falsifying records, retaliating against whistleblowers, and taking bribes from a contractor – her previous boss. In a decision upholding her termination, the administrative-law judge cited her acceptance of multiple gifts from the contractor and her failure to report those gifts as wrongdoing for which she could be fired.
But her termination took place after her team had created a climate of fear and wrecked the lives of good employees.
Over the past few years, at least three whistleblowers at the hospital had been either reassigned, given negative performance reviews, or fired after they reported mismanagement and severe understaffing at the hospital. Their cases have so far been settled, but the Local said there are at least three more whistleblower cases pending.
It’s hard to tell how this will end.
“We still don’t have partnership with management.” Curry said.
Retaliation against whistleblowers is not unique to Phoenix. During the scandal, countless AFGE whistleblowers across the country spoke out against waitlists, understaffing, and retaliation. AFGE is working with VA Secretary Bob McDonald, Congress, and the administration to end the culture of fear and retaliation.