Whistleblowers claim nothing has changed at Hines VA

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Two angry whistleblowers claim there are still big problems with patient care at the Hines VA medical center in West Suburban Maywood.

It has been more than a year since they revealed wait lists were being manipulated at Hines. As FOX 32’s Political Editor Mike Flannery reports, now those whistleblowers say the hospital's done too little to improve things and has retaliated against them. 

Whistleblower complaints at Hines Hospital have triggered at least three different internal investigations by the Veterans Administration. Some allegations have been verified, others not, Dr. Lisa Nee and Germaine Clarno told FOX 32 during an interview.

FOX 32: Have things gotten better?

“No. No. The retaliation and the fear, in fact, has increased. The more focus that is being placed on Hines, the more of the intimidation that is happening to keep their mouth shut,” Clarno said.

Clarno claims Hines is still manipulating statistics to make it's patient wait list look shorter than it is.

Dr. Nee resigned as a cardiologist after claiming Hines cheated her out of her annual bonus. She called it retaliation for her discovery in 2011 of hundreds of unread echocardiograms done on the hearts of ailing veterans. Five of the men died. She also claimed that other doctors submitted fraudulent bills and performed unnecessary surgeries to boost their bonuses.

The women testified FRiday at a hearing on Sen. Kirk's proposal to give whistleblowers new protections: On a first offense of retaliation, a supervisor would get a minimum 12-day suspension. On a second offense, they’d be fired.

Supervisors' performance ratings would include how they respond to whistleblower complaints, and it would protect all VA employees including nurses and doctors, who are currently not protected from retaliation under the law.

“Why are there hundreds of people nationwide coming forward, risking their jobs, to tell you that things are not being done properly at the VAs?” Dr. Nee said.

FOX 32 left messages for a spokeswoman at Hines, but could not contact her. The VA has admitted that Dr. Nee was correct about the backlog of unread heart exams in 2011, but says that no longer exists. They insist the general quality of care is good.

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