Local VA Whistleblower Speaks Out - NBC Chicago

Local VA Whistleblower Speaks Out

Germain Clarno says Hines VA hospital's problems similar to those in Phoenix



    A social worker details allegations against south suburban Hines VA Hospital, including making it seem as if patients were being treated sooner than they were. NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski reports. (Published Friday, May 16, 2014)

    A social worker who made explosive allegations against south suburban Hines VA Hospital says she's speaking out because most of the workers who are aware of the problems are afraid to.

    Germain Clarno, who's also a union president, says the same allegations at a Phoenix VA hospital of keeping waiting lists for sick patients off the books to make it seem as if patients were being treated sooner is also going on at Hines.

    Hospital requirements mandate that veterans be seen two weeks after they first call for an appointment.

    "This isn't one or two people, this is not one department ... it is through the whole hospital," Clarno said.

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    Clarno says the manipulation of scheduling information is a common practice dating back to 2011.

    "When veterans call, they'll say, 'There is not an opening for two to three months, is that OK with you?' So the veteran says, 'Well, if that's what it is, that's what it is.' Then they put in the system that it was per the request of the veteran," Clarno said.

    Clarno says the practice of manipulating the numbers first started under then director Sharon Helman. Helman moved on to the VA facility in Phoenix where as many as 40 veterans may have died before receiving care. Helman went on leave after the allegations surfaced.

    "These numbers are what these people's performance pay is based on," Clarno said.

    On Wednesday, a group of federal auditors visited the hospital and talked to employees about scheduling issues, but Clarno has doubts it will do any good.

    "They were employees from other hospitals. No one thought it would make a difference," Clarno said.

    Hines' new director, Joan Ricard, released a statement earlier this week saying she is "not aware of any occurrences of data manipulation here at Hines, past or present, and I have received no evidence or specific facts about data manipulation at the Hines VA."

    On Thursday VA Secretary Eric Shinseki vowed to a Senate committee that he would get to the bottom of the scandal. Clarno says she has faith in the former four star general.

    "I think he's hearing. I think the voices are coming out from the employees. I would be happy to meet with him personally and tell him what I know," Clarno said.

    Despite the scandal, Clarno says the hospitals have a good story to tell.

    "We do a lot of good things at the VA, and I'm proud to serve our nation's heroes -- we just have to make it better," Clarno said.

    VA undersecretary for health, Robert Petzel, resigned on Friday.