Counsel: Clarksburg VA manipulated patient data

PARKERSBURG — Patient data was intentionally manipulated at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg to artificially reduce reported wait times and the volume of patient visits, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel said in a press release.

A VA investigative report said a manager at the hospital over the last seven years attempted to influence nursing staff to place emergency patients in two unofficial clinics rather than record their emergency department encounter, a press release from the special counsel said.

The decision to create the clinics in the emergency department violated VA directives, prevented an accurate analysis of staff workload and gave the false impression that the Primary Care clinic had a greater workload and demand for services, the release dated Oct. 3 said.

The VA improperly coded patient encounters for medical billing purposes and informed the special counsel 602 veterans were charged an incorrect co-payment, resulting in lost revenue of $21,070 for the clinic, said the press release.

The investigation was prompted when a confidential whistleblower went to the Office of the Special Counsel with the disclosures of data manipulation, the release said.

“Whistleblowers who bring agency wrongdoing to light perform a valuable public service and deserve our gratitude,” said Acting Special Counsel Tristan Leavitt. “Manipulating data to reduce reported wait times is an unscrupulous use of taxpayer dollars and unfair to veterans. I applaud the immediate response by the Johnson VA Medical Center to correct these deficiencies.”

A statement from the medical center released Monday reiterated what was said in a Sept. 29 letter from Leavitt to Congress and the president, that the VA “immediately discontinued the practice, developed a process for clinic approvals, and educated leadership and staff on the requirements contained in agency directives violated in this matter. The agency is currently determining how to recoup lost payments. In addition, the VA counseled the manager responsible for the creation of these improper clinics.”

An inquiry also was made in March 2016 by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., whose congressional district includes Harrison County and the medical center, to the Department of Veterans Affairs about problems reported to him by a constituent. A statement from McKinley’s office on the status of the congressman’s inquiry was not available Monday, which was a federal holiday, Columbus Day.

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