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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has alerted the President and Congress to gross mismanagement by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that led to thousands of Alabama veterans having limited access to healthcare after the agency abruptly closed a medical clinic. A staff physician whistleblower in the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) alerted OSC to the situation, and an investigation by the VA substantiated the whistleblower's allegations. The VA found that after the closure of the outpatient clinic in Dothan, Alabama, patients were not properly notified that they were being transferred to other facilities, and that those other sites lacked a sufficient number of doctors to handle the roughly 4,500 displaced patients. The VA also substantiated the whistleblower's allegation he was pressured to prescribe controlled substances for patients he had not personally examined, likely in violation of healthcare standards.
The VA's contract with the Dothan clinic expired in November 2018. During the closure process, CAVHCS failed to provide guidance to its provider, CR Associates, on maintaining patient continuity of care. The whistleblower alleged that thousands of patients were transferred to another facility, the Wiregrass Clinic, but were not assigned a new healthcare provider, while others were assigned to providers with full capacity. “I commend the whistleblower for bringing forward such serious allegations," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “The mismanaged closing of an outpatient facility put the health and safety of thousands of veterans at risk. Now, more than ever, we owe it to healthcare workers to listen to their concerns and take risks seriously. No doctor should ever be pressured to prescribe controlled substances for patients he has not seen. I am encouraged, however, by the positive steps the VA is now taking to ensure veterans in Alabama receive the timely medical care they deserve."