Whistleblowers alarmed by cost cutting, care deficiencies at Cincinnati VA

A group of 34 current and former staff members claim the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati is in a state of disorder and is not delivering the quality of care area veterans need.

The whistleblowers, including 18 physicians from across departments, sent an unsigned letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald expressing their urgent concerns about the state of care at the Cincinnati VA.

Three longtime employees agreed to go public with their concerns. Richard Freiberg, MD, the former chief of orthopedics for the Cincinnati VA, said in a comprehensive report compiled by Scripps News and WCPO in Cincinnati, "This was a model hospital ... we were serving veterans with almost every imaginable problem and doing state-of-the-art care. Now, we're unable to care for almost all of them."

Perhaps the central figure in the controversy is Barbara K. Temeck, MD, acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA. There are reports of Dr. Temeck prescribing controlled substances to spouses of colleagues without a valid substance license and allegedly telling operating staff they were being "too picky" after reporting surgical instruments being delivered to operating rooms with blood and bone chips from prior surgeries. Complicating matters further, while Dr. Temeck receives $194,343 for her role as a cardiothoracic surgeon on top of her chief of staff salary of $137,191, multiple sources have alleged that she has only ever served as an assistant and never as the operating surgeon since coming to the Cincinnati VA.

Dr. Freiberg remembered that shortly after Dr. Temeck arrived, she called a meeting of the hospital's full-time total joint surgeons — "We were told that we were going to be reduced to one full-time between the three of us." Dr. Freiberg ended his employment at the VA in October, frustrated with how fiscal cuts were restricting the VA's surgical capabilities.

Local veterans have described lengthy delays and substandard care under Dr. Temeck's tenure. Vietnam veteran Ted Dickey, 72, received care from the VA for nearly 30 years. When he needed a hip replacement last May, the VA gave him a referral and showed him the door, telling him they no longer employed hip surgeons. "They don't know how to run a hospital...their way of running a hospital is not doing surgery and farming it out," Mr. Dickey said.

The VA launched one investigation and requested the Office of Inspector General open an additional unilateral investigation. The VA has temporarily removed oversight authority of the Cincinnati hospital from Jack Hetrick, the highest-ranking VA official in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The Cincinnati VA is reporting to a Pittsburgh-based regional director as the investigations continue.

More articles on legal and regulatory issues: 
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Georgia hospital CEO arrested for prescription drug fraud

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