Cleveland Clinic's Cosgrove says no to VA job

Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Toby Cosgrove. M.D., withdrew his name from consideration for the Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary job.

Cosgrove said this weekend that it was an honor that the White House considered nominating him to lead the VA, Reuters reports, but he couldn't take the job due to his commitment to the Cleveland Clinic, which he has run for the past 10 years.

"This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic, due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here," he said in a statement.

The White House approached the 73-year-old Vietnam veteran surgeon last week to see if he was interested in replacing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned in May in the wake of widespread allegations of long delays for treatment of veterans at medical facilities across the country, and claims that as many as 40 vets died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix facility.

Meanwhile, Sloan Gibson, who is serving as acting secretary while President Barack Obama looks for a permanent replacement, said he will release the VA's nationwide audit findings on the scheduling scandal today, according to the Washington Post. "The data will demonstrate the extent of the systemic problems we have discovered," he told the Post.

UPDATE: VA releases internal audit findings

Gibson also promised to bring cultural change to the VA and restore trust in its health system,  "one veteran at a time."

An Office of Inspector General preliminary report confirmed allegations that veterans had to wait as long as 115 days for an appointment to see a primary care doctor, but that several facilities covered up the treatment delays by creating separate lists to indicate that veterans received timely care. The investigation revealed 1,700 patients were on a "secret waitlist" although it's unclear whether the deaths of 40 patients on that list were due to delays in care.

Last week Gibson outlined the steps the VA would take to immediately correct some of the problems identified in the OIG report. The department will:

  • Contact all veterans on the unofficial wait list to help them schedule appointments
  • Contract with private clinics to help the VA deliver timely care
  • Deploy mobile medical units to see more patients
  • Remove three senior officials at the Phoenix facility

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee will hold a hearing today to gather testimony from watchdog agencies about the scheduling scandal.

Meanwhile, The (Columbus) Dispatch reports that investigators are looking into allegations that supervisors within the health system retaliated against 37 employees who complained about the falsified records used to cover up the care delays.

Gibson said he would not tolerate these acts of revenge. "I think that is wrong. It is absolutely unacceptable," Gibson told reporters at a news conference on Friday after he visited the San Antonio VA facility. "There have been questions raised about intimidation or even retaliation. There is a law that forbids that, and we'll follow the law."

The alleged retaliation includes complaints that one whistleblower was suspended for seven days after complaining to the VA's inspector general about scheduling misconduct and another who reported inappropriate use of patient restraints, according to the Dispatch.

Half of the complaints came in the last two months, following the allegations about the secret waitlist at the Phoenix facility.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- here's the Washington Post story
- check out The Dispatch story