Federal auditors need to look at the White House and Springfield Illinois but instead they are here. Federal auditors descended on Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital on Wednesday, just one day after a CBS News report alleging manipulation of waiting lists for patient care.
These "secret waiting lists," a whistleblower told CBS News, make the numbers look better and allow hospital executives to collect bonus money.
"Employees are coming to me from all over the hospital, from outpatient, inpatient, surgery, radiology," said Germaine Clarno, VA social worker and employee representative, suggesting that the practice is widespread.
The hospital reports that it provides medical care to more than 50,000 Chicago-area veterans in a year.
According to Clarno, this is how the scam works: When a veteran calls the hospital for an appointment, the veteran is placed on the secret list. An actual appointment in the computer would not be booked until an opening would arise within a 14-day window.
Clarno told CBS she believes people are faking the wait-time data to receive bonuses.
CBS first reported on problems at VA hospitals when another whistleblower, Dr. Same Foote, revealed efforts to conceal delays in care at a facility in Phoenix where as many as 40 military veterans may have died while awaiting treatment.
Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has been under fire ever since the scandal broke earlier this year. CNN revealed that top management in Phoenix was aware of the elaborate scandal. Shinseki will testify before Congress on Thursday about the delays.
Now the scandal has reached Chicago, and federal investigators reportedly are looking into facilities in Wyoming, Colorado and Texas, too. A spokesman said this is part of a nationwide review ordered by Shinseki.
In Chicago, hospital director Joan Ricard released a statement to the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday saying she “received no evidence or specific facts about data manipulation” at Hines.
Ricard said the information Clarno brought to her attention was not a "secret waiting list" but was “a performance improvement tool.”
Veterans told CBS News that appointments in Chicago take much longer than 14 days.
"It can be anywhere between one, two, three, four months," said Paul Rodriguez, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who sees several doctors at Hines.