Troubled VA medical center gets new director

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 09, 2018 - 9:05 am

Photo by Olivier Douliery

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Another troubled VA medical center has new leadership.  After two years of interim leadership, Joan Clifford has been named director of the troubled Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, MA.

Clifford is moving to Massachusetts from VA’s Central Office in Washington DC, where she is currently the deputy assistant deputy undersecretary for health for access to care. She has a doctor of nursing practice degree from Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professionals, a master’s of science in management from Emmanuel College and has previously been the deputy nurse executive in the Boston VA medical system.

Even though the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital has been given a five-star rating by the VA for the last two years, Clifford has her work cut out for her. It was at this medical center where Vietnam veteran Bill Nutter died while the nurse on duty was playing video games.

At the time, Senator Elizabeth Warren, (D-MA), while speaking about the tragic death of Nutter said, “His tragic death is part of a string of ongoing problems that must be addressed.  Conditions at Bedford need to improve, and the need to improve immediately.”

That “string” includes three overdose deaths at the Crescent House, which is a VA transitional residence program, in November 2016.  That same month, a veteran was turned away from the mental health walk-in clinic because employees thought he was just looking for shelter in the winter and wasn’t suicidal.  That veteran left the hospital and cut his throat in the parking lot.  He survived, but committed suicide two months later after walking out of a counselling session at the hospital.

Most recently, a federal watchdog agency released a report on how the previous director poorly handled two employees who had close to $1 million in suspicious purchasing and potential whistleblower retaliation. VA Secretary David Shulkin visited the medical center late last year and admitted that some of the hospital’s problems were due to inconsistent leadership.

At a press conference during his visit he said, “I think you’re seeing what happens when you have a continued shift of leadership. That’s why we have moved quickly now and frankly it has taken us too long, in terms of filing this position.”

Since 2016 the VAMC has had two acting directors and with Clifford’s appointment, two permanent directors. The last permanent director for the hospital was Christine Croteau, who was removed during an ethics investigation.