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Feds descend on Hines VA amid claims of inflated ratings

Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital near Maywood.  | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital near Maywood. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

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Updated: June 17, 2014 1:54PM

Federal investigators descended on Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital in the western suburbs Wednesday after a news report suggested administrators there inflated their performance to reap bonuses.

Word of the feds’ visit prompted Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., to call on the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to launch an investigation of all veterans’ hospitals in the state. He called the allegations in the report “credible,” and suggested veterans may have been harmed as a result.

“I’m going to make sure the inspector general of the VA has the resources to get to the bottom of this,” Kirk said in a phone interview. “It sparks some emotion for me to see my fellow veterans abused this way.”

The visit here comes after federal investigators swept into a Phoenix veterans’ hospital last month amid allegations of a cover-up.

Investigators there were investigating claims that a secret waiting list was allegedly maintained to hide lengthy delays for sick veterans, making it appear as if they saw doctors sooner than they had. In fact, it was claimed, some may have waited months or died before seeing a doctor.

The claims, unproven so far, have thrown the Department of Veterans Affairs into turmoil. Congressional inquiries are underway; VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is scheduled to appear before a Senate committee this week.

Kirk said there is a common link between Hines and the hospital in Phoenix.

Sharon Helman, the embattled director of the Phoenix hospital, was director at Hines until 2012, said Charity Hardison, a Hines spokeswoman. Helman was placed on leave earlier this month, after the scandal in Phoenix erupted, Kirk said.

“It appears to be linked to one discredited official who is currently on leave,” Kirk said.

The federal probe of Hines comes after an employee told CBS News she’d seen indications a similar wait list scheme was being used here.

“Employees are coming to me from all over the hospital, from outpatient, inpatient, surgery, radiology” the employee, Germaine Clarno, told CBS News. The wait list scheme was used “to make numbers look better for their own recognition and for bonuses,” she added.

The hospital said Clarno is president of a local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. A message could not be left for her because her voicemail inbox was full.

But Clarno has a powerful ally in Kirk.

“Her report I take as a credible account of misconduct at Hines,” Kirk said.

Wednesday afternoon, hospital officials pushed back against Clarno’s claims.

“I am not aware of any occurrences of data manipulation here at Hines, past or present,” hospital director Joan Ricard said in an emailed statement.

Contributing: AP


Twitter: @BrianSlodysko

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