The Department of Veterans Affairs removed the director of the D.C. medical center from his position Wednesday mere hours after a scathing inspector general report indicted the facility for dangerous conditions.
Brian Hawkins, the now-former medical center director, was placed on administrative duties.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs thanks the OIG for its quick work reviewing the D.C. VAMC,” the VA said in a statement. “The department considers this an urgent patient-safety issue. Effective immediately, the medical center director has been relieved from his position and temporarily assigned to administrative duties.”
In this statement, the VA named Dr. Charles Faselis as the acting medical center director, promoting him from his previous position of chief of staff.
“VA is conducting a swift and comprehensive review into these findings,” the statement continued. “VA’s top priority is to ensure that no patient has been harmed. If appropriate, additional disciplinary actions will be taken in accordance with the law.”
The inspector general released a rare preliminary report earlier on Wednesday based on findings from a rapid response team deployed to investigate complaints at the Washington, D.C., facility.
Investigators found the hospital has been storing important equipment in dirty areas and has had issues with lacking the tools necessary for certain surgical procedures.
For example, when investigators looked at 25 sterile storage areas, they found 18 were dirty.
The preliminary report also determined that there have been 194 reports about patients being placed at risk over the last three years. Surgeons had to cancel operations multiple times because they didn’t have the right tools.
Moreover, the Veterans Health Administration knew about the issues and did not fix them.
While veterans advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America applauded the decision to remove the director, the group said that much more needs to be done.
“It is completely unacceptable that veterans have been subjected to such dangerous conditions at the Washington DC VA,” Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement. “The VA did the right thing by relieving the DC director from his position, but he’s still being paid by taxpayers and under current law it will be very difficult to terminate him. Secretary Shulkin himself has said he wants Congress to pass legislation that will make it easier for him to quickly fire bad employees in situations like these.”
UPDATE: The VA has issued a new statement naming retired Army Col. Lawrence Connell as the acting medical center director, changing its previous decision of choosing Dr. Charles Faselis for the position. The VA stated that it chose Connell for the job because “it was determined that naming an acting director from outside the facility would allow leadership to concentrate on addressing the many challenges identified in the OIG report, without compromising the ongoing internal review.”
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