CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk wants heads to roll at Hines VA Hospital, due to the millions of dollars in bonuses paid out for top executives since 2011, in light of questions about whether patient waiting times were manipulated.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports Kirk doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with fellow U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, which is somewhat unusual despite the two sitting across the aisle from each other.
Durbin and Kirk have a history of cooperating for the good of Illinois, especially since Kirk’s recovery from a near fatal stroke. But Kirk’s call for the removal of Hines Hospital Director Joan Ricard drew a quick and critical response from Durbin.
“The VA I’m most worried about is the Hines VA in Maywood, which we’ve already seen $16.6 million in bonuses paid; and five cases in which over $2 million dollars in settlements have been paid for delayed veterans’ care,” he said. “Joan Ricard, the director there, should step down.”
However, Durbin said, “Before we have a hanging, let’s have a trial.”
The Trial Durbin wants is an inspector general’s investigation, at Hines and other Veterans Affairs hospitals, into allegations than veterans have to wait months for critical care and treatment; and secret lists which cover them up, enabling employees to qualify for millions of dollars in performance bonuses.
“It’s sort of an obscene amount of money when you think about $16 million dollars to this staff, who was turning out this low level of care. You think, ‘A bonus for what?’” Kirk said. “It sort of feels like a highway robbery.”
A Veterans Affairs spokesman said the VA is looking into the specific bonus information regarding Hines.
Durbin is waiting for those answers as well.
“If these bonuses were given at Hines or anywhere else, and they were because of falsified information about the scheduling, then they out to be returned immediately to the government,” he said.
But Kirk, flanked by his veterans affairs adviser and her father – both veterans – the former naval intelligence officer used a nautical analogy.
“If the ship runs aground, we all know the captain is immediately relieved,” Kirk said.
An analysis by the VA indicated more than half of the $16 million in bonuses at Hines went to recruitment and retention bonuses to staff members and tenant organizations. The remaining $7.2 million went to bonuses to recognize quality care – to which a spokesman said the director and employees remain committed.