Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Congressional Hearing at the VA Medical Center, Northport, NY

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Congressional Hearing at the VA Medical Center, Northport, NY
House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
VAMC Northport, 79 Middleville Rd., Northport, NY  11768
Auditorium, Bldg. 5
9:00 AM

Committee Members & Non-Committee Representatives present:
1) Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans Affairs
2) Mark Takano, Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans Affairs
3) Kathleen Rice, House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
4) Lee Zeldin, House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
5) Steve Israel, House Committee on Veterans Affairs
6) Two Staff Counselors
7) Two Staff Investigators

1) Dr. Mayer Bellehsen,  Northwell Health Corp. (formerly LIJ/North Shore Health System
2) Dr. Joan McInerney, Director, VISN 2 (regional office), Dept. of Veterans Affairs
3) Mr. Phil Moschitta, Director VA Medical Center, Northport, NY
4) Dr. Charlene Thomesen, Chief of Psychiatry, VA Medical Center, Northport, NY

Hearing focus: quality of care concerns, the facility’s state of disrepair, leasing and                                                 contract issues, and oversight lapses by management and VHA
Mr. Miller’s opening statement (summary bullets):
  • Air quality in the main Hospital building
  • failure of the A/C units in Radiology
  • Crumbling infrastructure
  • Veteran and non-Veteran unreported suicides connected to the Hospital
  • The lack of control and the abundance of narcotics on the Hospital campus
  • Lack of leadership in top management
  • Ghost Panels
Notes on Hearing:
  • Dr. McInerney - claimed the VA northport has “walk-in” Mental health for 25 years
  • Dr. McInerney - claimed the Facility needed $290 million for capital improvements
  • Dr. McInerney started quoting false numbers on amount and quality of medical care at this Facility
  • Dr. Bellehsen, quoted 150k Veterans in Nassau & Suffolk Counties (Long Island, NY)
  • Dr. Bellehsen, praised Dr. Thomesen and Phil Moschitta for their collaborative efforts in creating a dual treatment Facility for Veterans and Families at a satellite Clinic in Bay Shore, NY
  • The three VA witnesses could not, or would not, answer direct questioning in reference to the working protocols in the Hospital’s Emergency Room (this line of questioning was as a result of one recent, on-campus suicide / they dodged questions about the video surveillance cameras in place at the E.R. triage area / there was an argument over disclosure of Patient information due to HIPPA Law; Mr. Moschitta had no idea that HIPPA was actually a Law he thought it was just a policy) / claim of 57 E.R. visits a day / more back and forth about video cameras / Mr. Moschitta was less than forthcoming on all questions about the E.R. and the Triage protocol, finally claimed he didn’t know much about it
  • Dr. McInerney claimed 24 hour Psychiatric Care available at the Hospital / this should have been Dr. Thomesen’s turn to answer, but she remained silent
  • Ms. Rice started a diatribe on how fantastic the Northport VAMC has been and quoted numbers on “satisfaction” percentages that are totally unbelievable (90%) / she has been drinking the Kool Aide
  •  / Mr. Moschitta picked up on Ms. Rice’s comments and launched into his own diatribe on the glory of the VAMC Northport / Ms. Rice continued to deflect from the agenda
  • Dr. Bellehsen claimed more than adequate “advertising” by Northwell and the VA for the dual Clinic in Bay Shore, NY
  • Mr. Israel brought up the FBI and Suffolk Police investigation into the most recent on-campus suicide / he got stonewalled by the witnesses who stated that the Hospital serves 31.5k Patients annually, and is in the top 10% Nationally in satisfaction ratings
  • Mr. Miller brought up the “Ghost Panels” and the alleged revenue the Hospital garners from this practice / discussion on who ordered this practice and who is involved in effecting the practice / witnesses stonewalled and evaded and stumbled, and finally blamed lower echelon employees for any maleficence
  • Dr. McInerney mentioned the formal name for the “Ghost Panels” - Group Practice Panel Program
  • Dr. Bellehsen claimed dual Clinic billing services only since beginning of 2016
  • Mr. Moschitta claimed that repairing building roofs cost $600k ea. / work being done by Hospital employees / only real cost is for materials / plans to try to enlist U.S. Reservists to do work for free (job training exercise) / the roof repairs he eludes to are being done on the old single family dwellings on the campus
  • Mr. Israel tried discussing the HVAC problems, again / he got no cogent answer from Mr. Moschitta who deferred further questioning to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald / Mr. Moschitta failed to mention that he was going to hold out for $8 million to refurbish the Operating Suites before fixing the air quality problems / he referred to “statement of work” documents / then he claimed only a $50k cost for portable A/C units which were previously tallied at $2.8 million in Mr. Miller’s opening remarks (????)
  • Dr. McInerney claimed mostly Patients were to blame for delays in putting off surgeries due to the O.R. closures / she claimed everyone else was duly accommodated elsewhere
  • Note: way too much time devoted to Northwell’s involvement / most of this was not pertinent to the agenda / House Health Subcommittee was mentioned in reference to billing out to outside insurance, mainly Tricare
  • Veterans in audience were asked for a show of hands pro and con regarding the quality of health care at this Hospital / typically, there was more pro than con
  • Mr. Zeldin mentioned the maintenance requests by the Hospital management were so weak they were almost last in the National priority ranking for which Facilities actually get funds for fixing/replacing infrastructure
  • Mr. Miller & Mr. Takano closed the Hearing
This is just a summary from my notes and published documents available prior to the hearing. A full question and testimony document should be available soon on the House Committee’s website; go to - https://veterans.house.gov/subcommittees/oversight-and-investigations-114th-congress
Of particular note, Mrs. Peter Kaisen (Joan) was in attendance; she is the widow of the most recent Veteran to commit suicide on the Hospital campus - 76 year old Navy Veteran Peter Kaisen - whose death spurred this investigation and ensuing Hearing.
On my way out of the Hearing room, one of the Committee Investigators whispered to me, “He’s in big trouble.” referring to Mr. Moschitta.

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