West Hawaii Today reports:
Hawaii veterans aren’t worried about new Director of the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System Jennifer Gutowski’s ability to fix whatever problems may already exist inside the system.
They’re fearful she’s going to make those problems worse.
“When it was announced she was coming over here to head the Hawaiian VA, none of us were happy about that because she’s got such a bad record,” said Bill Flynn, chaplain at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12122 in Kona and also the post’s unofficial service officer for the past two years. “We do not want her here at all.”
Gutowski, who will assume the position on May 15, was appointed by the VA Secretary to direct a health system that administers services to almost 130,000 veterans across Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Prior to her appointment in Hawaii, Gutowski spent 18 years with the VA in a variety of capacities and locations. She served most of the last five years as associate director with the Southern Arizona VA, including a stint as acting director from January 2016-March 2017.
Based on misconduct prior to and during her time in Arizona, the branch of the VA she helped oversee became mired in controversy because of long wait times for patient appointments and a variety of allegations brought by whistleblowers as to why access was limited.
The allegations spurred a subsequent investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG fully substantiated one of four claims it investigated — that managers at the branch violated the VA’s scheduling directive in early 2014, a year and a half after Gutowski was hired, when they “improperly directed scheduling staff to zero out patient wait times.”
Patient wait times are calculated by comparing a patient’s desired date for an appointment against the actual date on which the patient was seen. When calling for an appointment patients are asked to supply schedulers with a desired appointment date, despite being unaware as to “scheduling capacity” and the feasibility of being seen on the date requested.
Schedulers are directed to log the desired date along with the date a patient is actually seen. According to the OIG report, dated Nov. 2016, schedulers were instructed by managers to zero out the two dates — or falsify scheduling records by altering the dates to reflect that the desired appointment date was the same as the scheduled appointment date.
The report found that 76 percent of 5,802 routine appointments it reviewed between December 2013-August 2014 showed the same desired and scheduled dates.
Upon a review of 4,855 routine appointments at the clinic between October 2015-March 2016, the number of coinciding desired and scheduled dates dropped to a rate of 46 percent.
OIG also investigated claims by a former employee that these inappropriate scheduling practices led to the endangerment of some veterans’ health. OIG concluded that was incorrect after reviewing the cases of 13 veterans who waited more than 30 days for each of a combined 15 appointments and died before the appointment dates….
That is when the misconduct was confirmed by investigators, but a former VA administrator named Pat McCoy told KGUN9-TV in Tuscon, Arizona, last November that she brought the issue to Gutowski and the rest of the Southern Arizona VA’s top staff long before then.
“(Gutowski) is the associate director,” McCoy said to KGUN9-TV. “She’s as responsible as (former Director Jonathan Gardner). This whole pentad is responsible for what went on with this data. They’re all responsible. They all knew about it. The chiefs of staff knew about it. I know they did. I told them.”
- PDF: VA OIG 2014 — Review of Alleged Patient Deaths, Patient Wait Times, and Scheduling Practices at the Phoenix VA Health Care System
- PDF: VA OIG 2016 — Review of Alleged Consult Mismanagement at the Phoenix VA Health Care System
- PDF: VA OIG 2016 — Access and Quality of Care Concerns Phoenix VA Health Care System Phoenix, Arizona