Former Roseburg VA director retires early after he was punished for disciplining surgeon
Senior Staff Writer
Former Roseburg VA Medical Center Director Dave Whitmer has retired from the VA early following controversy about discipline of a former surgeon here.
Whitmer served as interim director here for most of 2018. He was brought in as a fixer, tasked with turning around a VA that was struggling with problem managers, low staff morale and allegations of bullying and whistle-blower retaliation.
That was also the year that the VA Office of the Medical Inspector mandated that several officials be removed from supervisory responsibility, including former Chief of Surgery Dinesh Ranjan, who had stepped down and been reassigned in January of that year.
Whitmer said Wednesday in an open letter via email to staff members at Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, that his departure was related to his discipline of a surgeon for allegedly providing false testimony in an Equal Employment Opportunity case. He did not name the surgeon.
The News-Review received a copy of the letter on Friday.
According to Whitmer’s letter, the surgeon’s testimony led to a substantial payout to another doctor.
Whitmer said that he had disciplined the surgeon on the advice of the VA Office of General Counsel. He also said he proposed the surgeon’s suspension.
Years later, in December 2020, the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection notified Whitmer it was investigating the matter.
The VA Office of Resolution Management then called for disciplinary action against Whitmer for proposing the surgeon be suspended.
The reason given was the surgeon had filed an unrelated Equal Employment Opportunity case that was pending at the time.
Because of that case, the Office of Resolution Management argued the proposed suspension amounted to retaliation against the surgeon.
Whitmer said he received two disciplinary notices over the incident within three months. The first, he said, he didn’t challenge because the punishment only involved four hours of training. The second he did challenge.
“My defense of the second action successfully mitigated that discipline to a lesser charge, but the sting of having that disciplinary action in my official personnel file while all of my attention was on our COVID response was profound,” he said in the letter.
He said until then in his 30-year career in public service he never had any discipline proposed against him. It made no sense to him, he said, that it happened twice in three months and that both of those occurred years after the incident.
“This was deeply troubling to me and caused me to rethink my future at the VA,” he said.
While he was considering leaving, he received a job offer from the private sector and decided to accept it, he said.
Thursday was Whitmer’s last day at the VA.
Reached by phone on Friday, Whitmer told The News-Review he wasn’t sure how much he could say about the incidents that led to his retirement, other than what was in his letter.
“I felt like I couldn’t lead with confidence knowing that I had two (Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection) strikes against me and not knowing when a third could happen,” he said of his decision to retire early.
He said his new job is as a chief strategy officer for DSS Inc., an information-technology integration company based in his home state of Florida.
“I’m more focused on the door that’s been opened to me than the one that’s been closed,” Whitmer said.
Glide senior Morgan Gomes believes you don’t need a special gift or talent to be extraordinary. Perhaps that is because most everything Gomes does can be considered rather extraordinary, even though she views it as nothing more than simple adaptations that “anyone can do.”
Gomes was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy, a disorder that can affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture when she was 1. The disorder affects her entire right side, leaving her with a slight limp and limited function in her right hand. Because of her diagnosis, there were a lot of things doctors told Gomes she would never be able to do.
She decided to take that as a challenge.
She did that through sports and her involvement with the Colliding Rivers 4-H club. Gomes has tried every sport Glide has ever offered, from dance to soccer, basketball, track, volleyball and softball. Some weren’t for her, but in middle school, she finally found her place on the volleyball court and softball field, which she continues to play to this day.
“Honestly, I’ve always had this thing where I have to prove to people that I can physically do things that they didn’t think I could do,” she said. “No one expected me to be able to catch or throw a ball, and I’ve learned a little loophole.”
Her loophole is rather simple. She catches the ball with her left hand, then tucks her mitt under her right arm so she can then take the ball out and throw it with her left hand. After seven years, she said she has gotten fast at throwing a softball.
It isn’t just the challenge of proving people wrong that has kept Gomes devoted to sports. Her teammates and coaches have played a big role in keeping her involved.
“They are the reason why I enjoy it so much. They are always positive and a lot of my friends do sports, too, so we can relate a lot. We can identify what went wrong during a game, work on it and talk about it as teammates and as friends and then figure it out together.”
“Morgan has a fierceness to her. She is a fighter, in the good sense of the word. She is a good kid. She is also very kind — to other kids and to herself. She represents all those good qualities you’d want to see in a young woman,” Colliding Rivers 4-H club leader Analicia Santos said.
She joined 4-H in the fourth grade with the dream of raising pigs. After some negotiations, Gomes settled on raising sheep instead, which would eventually lead to the flock she has today. She even began her own sheep business, where she raises and sells sheep outside her 4-H involvement. Sheep are just her thing, she said.
As if sports and 4-H wasn’t enough, Gomes decided to challenge herself again by participating in the Miss Douglas County Scholarship Program.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to find out who I am and explore my more girly side,” Gomes said. “It taught me that I am definitely more confident in myself than I tend to feel and that I’m more social than I thought. I would say I am more of an introvert, but after being a part of that program, I can express myself more than I thought I could ever to in my entire life.”
That confidence, and the cooperation she learned from sports, are lessons Gomes said will stay with her throughout her life.
“Everything that I do is simple and anyone can do it. But because of my condition, it makes me extraordinary,” Gomes said. “Although my cerebral palsy is a challenge, it has never stopped me from chasing my dreams!”
Those dreams include attending either Umpqua Community College or Linn-Benton Community College in Albany to study either creative writing, journalism or agriculture as well as continuing to build her sheep business.
“There is nothing stopping you from doing what you love and if you have passion for it, you can keep on going,” she said.
Visits to parks operated by Douglas County will no longer come with a parking fee.
And that starts with Memorial Day Weekend.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners announced the elimination of parking fees on Thursday, and the fees were removed as of Friday.
The change is due to the Douglas County Parks Department’s success at bringing in enough money to become self-sustaining. Increased revenues, grants, investments and cost-cutting measures are behind the improvement in the department’s budget.
Following Budget Committee meetings in May, the commissioners had anticipated eliminating parking fees in July.
However, they said in a press release they decided to make the change more quickly after reviewing the budget numbers.
Parking fees were first instituted at the county parks in 2015 as a stop-gap measure following losses to the county’s general fund.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said in a statement the parking fees were never intended as a permanent budget solution.
“It was always our plan to eliminate the day use parking fees once we had achieved a self-sustaining budget through other resources,” Boice said.
“Our Parks Department has worked hard to secure grants, develop sought-after camping sites, and find ways to decrease operational costs. Through these efforts we are happy to reach a point where we can provide Douglas County residents more opportunities to enjoy our beautiful parks,” he said.