WASHINGTON - Investigators at the Department of Veterans Affairs found that two senior managers retaliated against whistle-blowers who reported dangers to patient care and financial mismanagement at the Phoenix hospital at the center of a nationwide scandal over falsified waiting lists.
But 15 months after the internal probes were finished and sent to Secretary Robert McDonald recommending that the managers be disciplined or fired, the VA has done neither - keeping one official on paid leave at home and leaving the other on the job.
Darren Deering, a physician who is chief of staff at Phoenix VA Health Care System, was scheduled to testify Monday at a Senate field hearing in Gilbert, Ariz., but his appearance was hastily canceled after lawmakers learned of the probe, which has not been made public. The Washington Post obtained a copy.
The lengthy, detailed investigations of Deering and Lance Robinson, the hospital's associate director, provide a window into an issue that's only starting to get the attention of senior leaders in government: supervisors who punish whistle-blowers for reporting wrongdoing are rarely punished themselves.
At the VA, members of Congress in both parties have begun clamoring for more accountability for retaliators after last year's cover-up of long wait times for veterans needing medical care, which was brought to light by whistle-blowers.
In the case of Deering and Robinson, an internal team created after the scandal called the Office of Accountability Review found that they moved to sideline and ostracize the emergency room director in Phoenix and banish a public affairs officer to a basement after both made disclosures that were protected by law.
The VA, under pressure from the federal agency that represents whistle-blowers, reached confidential settlements with Katherine Mitchell and Paula Pedene last year for the harassment they suffered. But the agency has not moved to punish the top brass who caused it.
After Mitchell blew the whistle on critical understaffing, poor patient care, mismanagement of patient wait lists, nursing errors, and inadequate training in the Phoenix hospital's emergency room, Deering placed her on administrative leave and demoted her from her post as head of the emergency room, according to the report. Her previously stellar performance ratings plummeted.
The review panel's investigation of Robinson also substantiated that he retaliated against Pedene, the public affairs officer in Phoenix.
Pedene, who is legally blind, made numerous disclosures beginning in 2010 about financial mismanagement at the medical center. The VA's inspector general substantiated many of them the next year. But then her bosses, Robinson chief among them, took away her job duties and banished her to a basement library.
Robinson did not respond to a phone message left Tuesday with a family member. Deering did not respond to a request for comment left through a VA official.