Altoona whistleblower medical records released and shared

While one whistleblower is a continued target, Veterans in Los Angeles have died by the dozens due to "delay of consult".

The James E. Van Zandt VA Hospital in Altoona, Pa. (Public domain photo from the hospital's Facebook page)

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2017 –President Trump has signed the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, but that does not mean that troubles in the VA and for our Veterans will see immediate change.

The Altoona VA Medical Center may have destroyed evidence in an ongoing investigation.

VA officials illegally accessed whistleblower’s medical records 

Altoona VA employee and whistleblower James DeNofrio asked through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “to be provided with a list of all persons accessing” a Share Point file which was created so that his private medical records could be shared.

“The Share Point was removed with no existing sub-sites on April 13, 2017,” said Barbara Wallace, an employee with the VA regional office who handled the FOIA request.

By this, DeNofrio told CDN, all records associated with this file, including anyone who may have accessed it, were destroyed.

As reported in May, the Veteran Integrated Services Network (VISN) 4, the regional office which includes the Altoona VA Medical Center, acknowledged to DeNofrio, that his private medical records were illegally accessed and then shared on this Share Point file.

“I am writing to you as the Network Director of VA Healthcare VISN 4. On February 13, 2017, you filed a complaint with the Privacy Office noting that the Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) file that you received copies of contained multiple copies of your Protected Health Information (PHI).” Said VISN 4 director, Dr. Michael Adelman, to DeNofrio.

“Also, it was identified that the AIB file was maintained on a Share Point site that multiple individuals had access to. Upon investigation of your report it was determined that there was a disc that was disclosed to two people.”

DeNofrio also told CDN that both the VA Office of Inspector General and the Department of Health and Human Services were investigating the illegal access of his medical records.

By destroying the Share Point, any record of who illegally accessed his medical records were also destroyed, DeNofrio told CDN.

“The SharePoint file was not destroyed. The contents of the file were placed on a secure SharePoint site for those individuals who required access,”Said Amy Detterline, a spokesperson for the Altoona VA Medical Center.

“It was subsequently removed from the site after it was determined personal medical information was part of the file. VA is committed to whistleblower protection and creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal. In support of this goal, last month VA established the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

VA whistleblower protections will be strengthened further with today’s signing of the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which VA supports.”

But DeNofrio was not happy with the answer:

“The million-dollar question is who all was given access to my Veteran medical files that were in the Employee AIB (Administrative Investigative Board) disciplinary file SharePoint?  With the SharePoint removed the list of those accessing the file is gone.”

Detterline responded:

“To clarify further, the scanned copies that were on the SharePoint were taken down. A paper copy is still maintained. His actual medical record remains intact.”

But evidence of who illegally accessed his records still remains, DeNofrio insisted.

DeNofrio also received some good news; his whistleblower retaliation case, which will be heard in front of a judge from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), is scheduled for a hearing from July 17-19 and DeNofrio noted that the hearing is open to the public.

CBS has reported that the problem with wait times was catastrophic at the Los Angeles VA hospital.

Melissa Villarreal reported that:

A new report by the VA inspector general shows 43 percent of the 225 patients who died between October 2014 and August 2015 at the Los Angeles VA were waiting for appointments or needed tests they never got. However, the report does not conclude these patients “died as a result of delayed consults.”

A website to track VA hospital wait times has been launched.

“We must fulfill our duty to the nation’s veterans,” Mr. Trump said at an East Room bill-signing ceremony, flanked by Army Sgt. Michael Verardo.

Verardo lost his left arm and left leg to an improvised explosive device in 2010 in Afghanistan. He faced months of waiting for his prothesis to be repaired and three and a half years of waiting for the department to properly equip his home to accommodate his injuries.

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