The Veterans Affairs Department has named a career Navy doctor to serve as interim director of its Office of the Medical Inspector.
Dr. Gerard Cox, a retired Navy captain who commanded the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the late 2000s and served as force surgeon for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet from 2010 to 2012, will temporarily take over the duties of OMI director, responsible for monitoring and investigating Veterans Health Administration hospitals and clinics.
“In response to the revelations by the Office of Special Counsel, we need new leadership and a fresh look from outside of OMI to assist in this transition,” said Sloan Gibson, acting VA secretary. “I expect Dr. Cox to help us restructure OMI to better serve veterans and create a strong internal audit function, which will ensure issues of care quality and patient safety remain at the forefront.”
As part of his efforts to reform OMI, Gibson also announced earlier this week he has suspended the OMI hotline, directing calls and complaints about VHA facilities to the VA Inspector General’s office.
On June 23, the Office of Special Counsel issued a report saying VA OMI officials often accepted problems at facilities as “harmless errors” and did not thoroughly investigate allegations made by whistleblowers.
Following the release of that report, Gibson announced a review of OMI operations. He also accepted the resignation of Chief Medical Inspector Dr. John Pierce, who had served in that role since 2004.
In mid-June, Gibson sent a message to VA employees emphasizing the importance of protecting whistleblowers. He continues to meet with employees at VA medical centers nationwide to reiterate that message.
But while OSC officials praised this effort in a letter to the White House on June 23, they said VA has a long way to go before it adequately responds to those whistleblower reports.
The office has 50 pending disclosure cases alleging threats to VA patient health and safety, and another 60 cases of alleged retaliation against whistleblowers in the department.
OSC officials said problems at VA facilities now make up about one-fourth of all the government cases they are investigating.
Cox joined VA in January as the assistant deputy under secretary for health for policy and services at the Veterans Health Administration.