Doug Paxton’s stepping down as director of the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is a step “aimed at improving care for veterans,” according to the VA.
The official announcement came Thursday afternoon, a few hours after The News-Review first reported on Paxton’s reassignment to a West Virginia VA.
The change was lamented by many veterans, who said Paxton had reached out to them and included them in ways his predecessor didn’t. It was welcomed by current and former staff members, some of whom are veterans themselves, who said Paxton failed to improve care at the VA and allowed employees to face retaliation and bullying from managers.
Carolyn Clancy, executive in charge of the national Veterans Health Administration, said in a statement the action was necessary.
“There are times that facility leadership needs to change in order to usher in a new approach that will demonstrate we are committed to delivering results for veterans and taxpayers,” Clancy said.
Paxton’s leaving isn’t the only change the VA can expect. According to the announcement, the Roseburg VA is expected to make rapid improvement on several target areas. Those include access to care, performance measures, patient experience, employee experience and mortality.
Also Thursday, the VA announced a nationwide initiative for its 15 lowest performing VAs, including Roseburg. Roseburg and other one-star facilities will now be reporting to a federal official who reports directly to Clancy.
If the Roseburg VA doesn’t improve on its target areas, a team of “expert improvement coaches” will be dispatched to assist it, the VA said in a press release.
It will also face quarterly reviews from the VA’s Central Office.
“If the facilities fail to make rapid substantial progress in their improvement plan, VA leadership will take prompt action, including changing the leadership of the medical center,” the press release said.
“President (Donald) Trump has made it clear that our veterans deserve only the best when it comes to their healthcare, and that’s why we are focusing on improving our lowest performing facilities nationwide,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin, according to the press release. “We will employ tight timelines for facilities to demonstrate improvement and if low performance persists, we will make swift changes — including replacing facility leaders — until we achieve the rapid improvements that veterans and taxpayers expect from VA.”
Paxton will be the assistant director at the Huntington VA in West Virginia. Replacing him, as interim director, will be David Whitmer, who is the chief operating officer of the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Sunshine Health Network. Also known as VISN 8, the network covers Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Whitmer joined the VA in 2014, and has served as the chief operating officer for the Tampa and West Palm Beach VA hospitals. Before joining the VA, he worked 15 years at the National Institutes of Health.
Some of the hospitals under the Sunshine Health Network have been the subject of employee complaints in recent years, including allegations of sexual harassment and whistle-blower retaliation at the Bay Pines VA near St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Times reported in March that former Bay Pines VA Chief of Police Robert Shogren switched to the engineering department after an officer reported VA police intimidated, harassed and bullied employees who reported misconduct by managers. The newspaper reported it was the latest in a string of complaints against the police department that had led to a regional review and congressional inquiry. The chief cited health issues for his job change.
The Washington Examiner reported the former director of the Puerto Rico VA, DeWayne Hamlin, was arrested in 2014 for driving under the influence of intoxicants and found to have a pain pill in his pocket for which he had no prescription. The charges were later dropped, but employees alleged Hamlin attempted to fire a whistle-blower who reported him to the VA. The Examiner reported the VA subsequently harassed and attempted to fire another employee who refused to recommend the whistle-blower be fired. Hamlin was fired and then rehired for a lesser position at the VA after he complained to the Merit Systems Protection Board.