A Phoenix VA supervisor, who managed the secret wait list in 2014 where dozens of vets died, was caught denying specialty care appointment referrals to veterans in a petty power play.
Pauline DeWenter, supervisory medical administration specialist, fired off an email May 20 telling other VA staff of her decision to instruct medical support assistants not to schedule consults for veterans in podiatry, according to emails obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. A consult is an appointment with a specialist.
“It has been brought to my attention that the PACT MSA’s have been asked to do consult scheduling for podiatry,” DeWenter wrote.
“Currently I have instructed the MSA’s NOT to schedule any consult from Podiatry, this is taking away from the primary duties,” DeWenter added. “Also do not send any one over after a consult is placed for scheduling, they first must be received and reviewed for scheduling.”
The power play by DeWenter did not go unnoticed. Dr. Robert G. Frykberg, chief of podiatry at the Phoenix VA, expressed astonishment at her decision to unilaterally cut off scheduling support for no real reason.
“Is this Veteran Centered Care? Is this efficiency?” Frykberg asked, also copying facility director Deborah Amdur on the email. “Is this the way we provide assistance to clinicians?”
“In 40 years of practice I have never heard of anything like this! We have providers to care for our VETERAN PATIENTS in NEED,” Frykberg wrote. “Yet we do not want to provide MSAs to schedule patients and consults after they have been reviewed/activated by the provider?? This is obstructing efficient care of our patients and it simply does not reflect what I believe is our best effort to improve our system.”
Frykberg noted that one of the doctors in the South East community-based outpatient clinic has to work in the area without any help from schedulers.
“As such, he is not working as efficiently as he might. I would think that an MSA (even a shared MSA) to schedule patient appointments (including initial consult appointments) is the least that we can do to enable him to do his job more efficiently.”
Another doctor asked, “What is not clear to me is that we all work for the VA. How is it then than an MSA can refuse to schedule an appointment for any Veteran?,” in response to DeWenter’s email.
In fact, the MSAs had zero issue with scheduling for this doctor, but according to a whistleblower, “they were ordered not to by their supervisor.”
The agreement brought up by DeWenter to justify pulling away MSAs from scheduling specialty care appointments does not exist, this whistleblower added. Although DeWenter stated that the MSAs referenced are primary care MSAs and shouldn’t be scheduling specialty care appointments, internal VA practice is that specialty care MSAs also schedule primary care appointments.
“The story her is that she’s preventing access to care for Veterans again, not by hiding their appointment’s in a drawer, now by openly telling her staff not to schedule them,” a whistleblower told TheDCNF. “That is why the chief of podiatry vehemently complained.”
DeWenter was a key actor involved in maintaining the secret wait list at the Phoenix VA in 2014, which kicked off a national scandal and put the VA through serious scrutiny. She was responsible for managing and handling the list — where veterans were placed when management wanted to completely ignore them for the purpose of improving wait time statistics, all the while these veterans languished without care. At least 40 vets died while waiting for care on these lists.
After the scandal, DeWenter became a supervisor in primary care.
Apparently, the Phoenix VA considers the situation resolved, although it’s unclear whether DeWenter received any discipline, or how exactly the situation was resolved.
“I do understand the concern, and the situation has been resolved internally to the satisfaction of the chief of podiatry, the medical support assistants, and other process owners,” Paul Coupaud, public affairs officer at Phoenix, told TheDCNF.
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