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A car moves along a parade of American flags at the Roseburg VA Medical campus on Veterans Day.

Three associate chiefs of staff at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center have been removed from supervisory responsibilities in response to an investigation by the federal Office of the Medical Inspector.

New Interim VA Director Dave Whitmer sent an email to staff and to the News-Review Friday that outlines an array of changes that have taken place or soon will in the wake of the investigation.

A two-page report summary on the investigation was received Thursday by The News-Review. It confirmed reports that senior VA leadership created an environment of intimidation, and also raised a host of other problems, most notably with radiology, cardiology and mental health care. Former Director Doug Paxton stepped down about a month ago, after investigators conducted interviews with 131 current and former employees late last year.

Friday’s email fleshes out some of the detail that was left out of the summary report, which had presented a broadly-worded list of seven investigative topics and 22 changes the facility would be required to make.

The Office of the Medical Inspector mandated that three associate chiefs of staff be removed as supervisors, but didn’t name them in the report summary. Although names aren’t given in the staff email either, the job titles are.

It appears that former Chief of Surgery Dinesh Ranjan, cardiologist and Associate Chief of Staff of Medical Education William Stellar and Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health Paul Beiring are the three supervisors. According to the staff email, all three have been removed from supervisory responsibility.

However, rather than be terminated, the three have been reassigned. Ranjan, who stepped down Jan. 21 following complaints of bullying and whistle-blower retaliation, has been reassigned to the regional network to help develop a surgical telehealth program. Stellar was relieved of all cardiology duties Feb. 26, according to the email.

According to the email, Beiring was given a new job Jan. 10 as coordinator for the SAIL program, which measures the VA on performance metrics that influence its official star rating. However, Beiring, who is a social worker rather than a doctor, may have been monitoring metrics for longer than that. He was cited in a Jan. 1 New York Times story as having been assigned to improve the hospital’s metrics in 2014. Beiring was quoted in the story saying the hospital was just “a death or two” away from a two-star rating. The hospital currently has a one-star rating.

Some current and former employees have expressed dissatisfaction that the three supervisors have been reassigned or transferred rather than being fired. According to some reports, all three, including Ranjan, are continuing to work on the Roseburg VA campus even if they’re not supervising anyone.

The OMI called for a fourth person, the chief of mental health nursing, to be removed from supervisory duties, according to the memo. According to Friday’s email, she has transferred to a different facility.

VA doctor Steven Blum said the OMI report vindicated whistle-blowers and shone a spotlight on the “failure of VA management at all levels.”

He said it proves management knew patients were being harmed and staff retaliated against for reporting it. And he said it’s not enough to reassign the supervisors mentioned in the report.

“The next rational step would be to dismiss the managers referred to in this report, rather than simply transfer them to another department or another VA,” he told the News-Review Thursday evening, before the staff email was sent out.

Whitmer included a copy of the OMI report summary in his email to staff members, and spoke about a new openness in dealing with the VA’s past issues.

“A major aspect of our cultural transformation is to share information in an open and transparent way, seek input from you and other stakeholders, and communicate so all are aware of the changes we must undertake together for the long term success of our healthcare system,” he wrote.

He emphasized the Roseburg VA is “under new leadership and on a new path,” and said the report represents the past and the actions that need to be taken, but said the focus is moving forward together.

“Thank you in advance for the work you do each day supporting our mission. Our Veterans are counting on us to deliver the best healthcare that they have earned,” he said.

One of the most puzzling findings in the OMI report involved a demand that a root cause analysis study be performed to find out why a veteran diagnosed with frostbite died. Multiple sources close to the VA said they had never heard about such a case, and in the email, even the VA’s top brass appears puzzled. Under its notes on actions taken for this item, the email said, “Awaiting clarification from OMI on identity of patient.”

On other measures, the VA appears to already be making changes. A problem with nursing supplies to the Eugene clinic has already been fixed, according to the email. Executives’ travel expenses are being audited.

A radiology case involving a patient with a kidney problem was flagged for review, and has already been reviewed by a committee of doctors, while a case involving an involuntary blood draw and forced medication will be reviewed by another committee of doctors.

A vague mention of operating room utilization in the report comes clearer in the staff email, where it appears that contract doctors were not using the Eugene clinic’s operating room for urology cases. The VA’s still working on that item.

There’s more work to be done. A list of mandates regarding the radiology department has been only partially addressed. Other tasks ahead include ensuring adequate cardiology coverage and improving access to primary care due to vacancies at the Eugene clinic.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4213 or by email at ccegavske@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(7) comments

Despacito

According to this article Dinesh Ranjan stepped down on Jan. 21 from his Chief of Surgery job. Why then was he still performing supervisory and local Roseburg VA functions at the Roseburg VA within the past two weeks? Why was his wife, the current Chief of Staff in the same room, allowing Mr. Ranjan to perform this peer review on a Roseburg employee? Did she not know that her own husband was no longer the Chief of Surgery? Would Mrs. Ranjan allow just anybody to come into the peer review committee then? This argues that what employees have been complaining about, nepotism/favoritism by Mrs. Ranjan to Mr. Ranjan is alive and well at the Roseburg VA, right under Mr. Whitmir's nose. So much for cleaning the place up Mr. Whitmir. And finally, the snoozing cardiologist is removed from supervisory duties. Not sure that is even true. William Stellar is apparently still in charge of medical students as no mention of that being removed. Nothing should scare the public more than a cardiologist who himself isn't permitted to be a cardiologist at the VA, teaching doctors of the future who will be caring for you and your loved ones. For sure he and his pal Mr. Ranjan are free to roam the halls of the VA intimidating employees and were doing so just last week. As long as these people are permitted on the campus they are a danger to employees, patients and the overall mission of the VA. They have proven themselves incapable of accepting the OMI, Congressman Defazio and the taxpayers decision. The only way to keep these people from doing more harm is to terminate their employment and call the police on them when they are seen on campus as trespassers. Realize that these people are collecting, each, over $300,000 per year in salary minus benefits. Sounds like they might have been getting even more benefits in the form of travel pay which is now being investigated. I guess David Shulkin says it's okay to have your travel paid for since he got a trip to Wimbledon and tennis tournament tickets out of his deal. See how caca rolls down hill? How many allied health care employees could be hired for $600,000 per year? And how much is Beiring being paid to play with a spreadsheet? Can't someone in accounting at the VISN level do that job? Wake up veterans...this is your care. Where is your outrage?

Lee

Hello, I see that you post a lot of negative comments on the Roseburg VA. Have you considered meeting with Mr. Whitmer? Your input could give him some valuable perspective on the healthcare system.

just me

i have no doubts whitmer knows and doesnt give a rat's derriere

melrosereader

This reminds me of how the Catholic church shuffled pedophile priests from one parish to another.

just me

these people have been served cake. what about the damaged employees

Despacito

Damaged employees are still damaged. The VA will only deny, deny, deny. Just like they will deny any veterans are harmed. You are only rewarded in the VA if you damage others and show yourself to be good at a cover up. If you retaliate against employees and deliver poor care to veterans you will get not one, but two offices, your travel paid for and your spouse gets a job too!!! See how that works?

Mogie

Transferring or reassigning is just passing the problem onto someone else. Too bad people can't be or won't be held responsible for their actions.

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