CHICAGO (AP) —
Federal investigators have visited a veterans hospital in suburban Chicago
to look into an allegation that secret lists were used to conceal long
patient wait times for appointments.
Auditors from the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General visited
the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital on Wednesday. Their visit was part of a
nationwide review of VA facilities triggered by similar claims involving a
hospital in Phoenix where a former clinic director said up to 40 veterans
may have died while awaiting treatment.
The uproar has led
to calls for the Veterans Affairs secretary to resign, and U.S. Sen. Mark
Kirk says the claims targeting the Hines hospital are credible enough to
warrant an expansion of the formal investigation targeting the Phoenix
general should immediately broaden its investigation to include Hines VA and
to deliver a swift and immediate report," Kirk said, noting that there was a
link between the facilities in Arizona and Illinois.
hospital's director, Sharon Helman, also served as director of the hospital
in Hines, Illinois, from 2010-2012. Helman, who has been placed on leave
while the investigation moves forward, has denied the claims, which have not
hospital's current director, Joan Ricard, says there was no separate patient
waitlist at that facility. She said a spreadsheet was used by the mental
health department, but it was a "performance improvement tool" and was not
linked to patient appointment scheduling.
"I am not aware of
any occurrences of data manipulation here at Hines, past or present, and I
have received no evidence or specific facts about data manipulation at the
Hines VA," Ricard said in a written statement.
The allegation came
from VA social worker Germaine Clarno, who is also president of the union
representing the hospital's employees, the American Federation of Government
Employees VA Local 781.
She first told CBS
News in a report Tuesday that veterans were put on secret waiting lists when
they first sought appointments and would not formally be booked into the
system until an appointment became available within the VA's maximum wait
goal of two weeks.
Clarno told CBS
that executives and doctors were seeking "to make numbers look better for
their own recognition and for bonuses."
She could not
immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
by VA auditors had been scheduled before Clarno's allegations, but they did
inquire about the allegations, said Hines spokeswoman Charity Hardison.
General's Office did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Secretary Eric Shinseki testified Thursday at a Senate hearing on the
Phoenix allegations, which surfaced last month. Facing calls by some
Republicans and veterans groups to resign, Shinseki said he was "mad as
hell" over the allegations and vowed to hold employees accountable if any
evidence of misconduct is uncovered.