WASHINGTON, September 8, 2017 – A new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has muddied the waters even more regarding who illegally accessed the medical records of Altoona VA Medical Center employee and whistleblower James DeNofrio.
When fellow Altoona VA Medical Center employee and whistleblower Tim Skarada asked in August 2017 who had access to a SharePoint file created for an Administrative Investigative Board against his department, he received a list with more than ten names on it, including the Veteran Integrated Services Network 4 director, Dr. Michael Adelman.
Others on the list include VA attorneys Michael Graham and Angela Madtes.
The SharePoint has become a focal point of whistleblower retaliation complaints from DeNofrio because it included his medical records which are supposed to remain private according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
But when DeNofrio previously asked for the same request through FOIA, he was given this response, “The SharePoint was removed with no existing sub-sites on April 13, 2017,”
Andrea Young, the public affairs officer for the Altoona VA Medical Center, provided this statement on the contradictory responses:
“When (the) VA processed Mr. DeNofrio’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in February, we responded that there were no records about who had accessed the SharePoint site in question. This was based on information from the facility chief information officer (FCIO), who at that time did not know that the specific site for the Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) existed.
“When VA processed Mr. Skarada’s FOIA request in August, the FCIO had learned that the AIB had a SharePoint site and was able to provide the list.”
But an email he received in April 2017, contradicts Young’s statement:
“It was reported to me by the ISO that all files were removed from the site and no subsets exists,” a staffer said to DeNofrio in an email from April, reiterating that the SharePoint didn’t exist in contradiction to Young’s statement.
DeNofrio provided this statement:
“VA continues to make excuses instead of delivering on the promises of transparency and accountability. The fact is that I still have still not received the FOIA records to this date. Over the next two weeks, both Tim Skarada and I will be in MSPB whistleblower retaliation hearings against the VA that are open to the public and the media. I encourage anyone who wants to learn what is really happening at the VA to attend.”
DeNofrio’s Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) hearing in which he alleged whistleblower retaliation began in August; because several witnesses were not available to testify in August, it will be completed later this month.
Skarada will have his own MSPB hearing where he too will allege whistleblower retaliation later this month.
Their disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel has set off a chain of events which have allegedly put the hospital into chaos. Following the release of their disclosures in January 2016, then medical director William Mills was quietly moved to the Memphis VA Medical Center. The hospital then went through a series of temporary medical directors before settling on a permanent medical director in the last two weeks.
An internal VA grading system known as Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) reduced the hospital’s rankings from the top ten percent to the bottom thirty percent shortly after Mills’ removal.