PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired the director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System a month after officials determined she committed unspecified “conduct unbecoming a senior executive” and wasteful spending.
The director, Terry Gerigk Wolf, had been on paid leave since June after a VA review of a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak between February 2011 and November 2012. At least six Pittsburgh VA patients died and 16 were sickened by the bacterial disease, which was traced to water treatment problems at the Pittsburgh-area hospitals.
The VA said in a statement that Wolf’s firing after seven years heading the Pittsburgh health system “underscores the VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get veterans the care they need.”
Wolf is the fourth senior executive at VA to be removed under a new law that gives VA Secretary Robert McDonald authority to streamline the firing of poor-performing executives by shortening the time for dealing with appeals. Two of the officials were allowed to retire, which has infuriated some Republican lawmakers.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, accused the VA of dragging its feet, noting that Wolf was first targeted for removal on Oct. 3 but was not fired until Thursday.
“Given that Wolf’s firing comes two years after the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Legionnaires’ disease outbreak ended, it’s obvious VA had no interest in holding her accountable initially and was only driven to this point after intense congressional and media scrutiny,” Miller said in a statement.
Miller said the VA has “rewarded” other figures involved in the outbreak, including Wolf’s supervisor, Michael Moreland, who collected a $63,000 bonus despite the Legionnaire’s outbreak, which prompted congressional hearings. The VA recently promoted Wolf’s deputy, David Cord, to director of the VA’s Erie, Pennsylvania, hospital, which serves veterans in northwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and southwestern New York.
The VA said the push to remove Wolf stemmed from an investigation by its Office of Accountability Review. It would not say whether that push was related to the outbreak and never specified any allegations.
Wolf could not immediately be located for comment Thursday.
Pittsburgh VA spokesman Mark Ray said the local hospital network had nothing to add to the department’s announcement.
The Pittsburgh VA’s chief medical officer, David MacPherson, has been named interim director.
New regulations were enacted in the wake of a nationwide scandal over veterans waiting too long for medical care or being kept on secret waiting lists so that regional VA directors and others wouldn’t be penalized if certain care access deadlines weren’t met. Eric Shinseki resigned as VA secretary over the scandal in May.
Under the new accountability standards, Wolf was given several weeks to respond in writing to the department’s allegations before McDonald fired her.
The VA secretary did not address Wolf’s firing directly, but in comments last week aimed at Miller said the VA was acting “as aggressively and expeditiously as possible by law” to fire poor-performing executives.
While removals may seem slow from the outside, “we’ve got to make sure every action we take sticks,” McDonald said.
VA has proposed disciplinary action, up to an including firing, against more than 40 employees involved in the scandal, which included the falsification of records to cover up delays in treatment of veterans..
The VA is considering disciplinary action against more than 1,000 employees overall, McDonald said. The agency employs more than 315,000 people.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.