Here’s the latest appalling development in the VA hospitals scandal: Emails, audits, and personal statements reveal a systematic silencing of whistleblowers working inside the agency. The NYT reports that the Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency dedicated to probing whistle-blowing cases, is investigating 37 cases in 19 states in which VA employees were punished for speaking out about the fraud in the system. The Project on Government Oversight, a private organization, reports even more cases: 175 former or current employees have come to them confidentially to detail the abuse at the VA.The NYT interviewed six of these whistleblowers, and here’s just one example:
Dr. Jacqueline Brecht, a former urologist at the Alaska V.A. Healthcare System in Anchorage, said in an interview that she had a heated argument with administrators at a staff meeting in 2008 when she objected to using phantom appointments to make wait times appear shorter, as they had instructed her. She said that the practice amounted to medical fraud, and complained about other patient care problems as well.
Days later, a top administrator came to Dr. Brecht’s clinic, put her on administrative leave, and had security officers walk her out of the building. […]Her complaints were corroborated by other Alaska personnel and were the subject of an email that Dr. Brecht sent to a military doctor at the time. Dr. Brecht wrote that administrators “schedule fake patient appointments (i.e. commit FRAUD).” They do so, she wrote, “just so our numbers look good to DC (and the administrators get their bonuses for these numbers).”
This is what the culture of large, closed bureaucratic organizations looks like. The intimidation of whistleblowers happens in the private sector, too, of course. But this story shows that more government control over health care isn’t a shortcut to efficiency and competence, despite what American supporters of European-style single payer systems often suggest.