Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said Roseburg VA Healthcare System officials admitted to him in a meeting that they had been using an "inappropriate admissions system" for over a year, and that the VA has since put a stop to it.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Lane County Friday night, Wyden shared more information about the contents of a meeting with senior VA officials Thursday regarding the VA's ongoing investigation into the Roseburg Healthcare System. The VA says its investigation, which began Oct. 30, is focused on a variety of clinical and administrative areas.
"We got a lot more heavy lifting to do in Roseburg, but obviously this is a deeply disappointing issue," Wyden said.
It's unclear whether Wyden was referring to practices at Roseburg outlined in a Jan. 1 New York Times article, which showed the facility had engaged in a practice of turning away patients against the recommendations of doctors in order to improve quality-of-care metrics. Doug Paxton, director of the VA Roseburg Healthcare System, called the contents of the report "fake news" in an interview on OPB's "Think Out Loud."
"I think the New York Times story is completely false, and it's completely based on hearsay," Paxton said.
Paxton said he had seen no "tangible evidence" to support the report, which was based on interviews with current and former staff at Roseburg.
"Nobody has ever come to my office with these allegations," Paxton said. "Nobody has ever come to my office with the allegations and any evidence that we've not taken care of our patients correctly and that we're manipulating data."
Wyden, along with U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, called for an investigation last fall after receiving several dozen accounts from Roseburg Healthcare System employees documenting claims of misconduct, mismanagement and retaliation against whistleblowers.
DeFazio, whose district includes Roseburg, also met with VA officials Thursday, saying in a statement that the VA had outlined a number of personnel and statutory changes now in the works. DeFazio also told The Register-Guard that the VA plans to remove senior managers that would affect its clinic in Eugene.
"The [VA Roseburg Healthcare System] has suffered for years from mismanagement resulting in an inability to recruit and retain high-quality providers, which has seriously hindered patient care," DeFazio said in a statement.
"This not the first crisis of management and patient care at VARHS, and previous short-term fixes have only compounded the problem. Oregon’s veterans and VARHS employees deserve lasting, meaningful change.”