WASHINGTON - After a scathing report revealed alarming conditions at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs, the head of the VA came out on Thursday announcing wholesale changes.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin faced scrutiny from patients, staff and the media at the hospital as he attempted to share a blueprint for the medical center's future, which will now include new leadership, new technology and new accountability measures.
Shulkin said he found out Wednesday about the months of missteps and gross negligence regarding the equipment and inventory issues that was putting “patients at unnecessary risk” after a report released by the VA’s Office of Inspector General.
“I see it as a basic failure in management and I think you saw that we took strong, decisive action yesterday,” said Shulkin.
At a news conference held Thursday afternoon at the medical center, Shulkin said, “I do believe that we have the ability to fix these issues. We will have an electronic inventory system in place here in Washington like we do at most of our other medical centers by Monday.”
The former medical center director, Brian Hawkins, was reassigned from his position to administrative duty on Wednesday after the report came out.
“The most important thing in my decision making is to make sure that this place is safe for veterans,” Shulkin said.
The secretary handpicked retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Connell from his personal staff to become the acting director for the medical center. Connell spent more than three decades as an Army medical services officer.
He was not authorized to speak on Thursday, but his work is cut out for him at the hospital after the inspector general's report revealed over $150 million in equipment and supplies unaccounted for. Vital supplies, such as those needed for dialysis and surgeries, were being borrowed from a private hospital.
“When you start going up in the wards, that is when you see the real trouble, the real deal, and in the [emergency room] – the ER is disgusting,” said U.S. Army veteran Marilyn Wyche.
She has been a patient at the District's VA medical center for more than two decades and is not surprised by the investigation. Neither is Jeffrey Kahn, who said many of his clients at the Takoma Wellness Center are veterans.
“They have been disappointed and they have noticed a worsening of conditions and availability of treatment,” said Kahn. “They are very unhappy with the level of bureaucracy that they face and the lack of proper treatment they receive.”
Shulkin insists there were no veterans harmed at the hospital. Even so, he also said the investigation continues and people will be held accountable.