WASHINGTON, February 28, 2017 — A Memphis VA Medical Center whistleblower has told CommDigiNews that he is facing retaliation again. Sean Higgins said the hospital is threatening to suspend him without pay for fourteen days for using a swear word during a conversation with a hospital manager.
They were discussing a dispute in Higgins’ paycheck in late 2016.
Higgins has worked at the hospital since 2007 and has been terminated twice but received his job back both times. Most recently, Higgins was terminated in 2015 only to have a federal judge rule the termination was improper.
Though Higgins was ordered back to work with full back pay, he told CDN he still has not received money for the more than one year he was out of work, though that money was due in early 2016.
Willie Logan, the public affairs officer for the Memphis VA, has declined comment, stating this is a personnel matter.
Higgins says the hospital has refused his request to convene an Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) to investigate the matter and he has not been given any information about how the hospital plans to investigate the incident.
Higgins has blown the whistle on a series of scandals including unsanitary working conditions, long wait times, medical records backlogs, and improper bio-hazard waste disposal. His disclosures have led to investigations by the Occupations Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Joint Commission, and the House Veteran Affairs Committee.
Higgins has told CDN that he believes this latest action is whistleblower retaliation. A letter written jointly by Higgins and his attorney, Joree Brownlow, states.
“The unpleasant fact is that, although Mr. Sean Higgins has defeated their conspiracy to terminate him, twice, no matter what he does, they are relentlessly in control of every step to make him whole after he wins. Currently pending is an enforcement action at the MSPB to try to unravel the mess they made when Mr. Higgins returned to work after he prevailed at the MSPB. Don’t take my word for it. The facts are clear.”
The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which represents Higgins, has filed an unfair labor practices complaint on his behalf regarding this incident:
“NAGE Local R5-66 President, Marshall Harris, has identified you as a witness to give testimony in the investigation of unfair labor practice.”
The Memphis VA has faced a series of setbacks. In December, The USA Today reported that according to an internal rating system the hospital ranked in the bottom ten percent of all VA hospitals. After medical director, C. Diane Knight, was transferred into another position in February 2016, the hospital has had three temporary directors take over.
Most recently, the House Veteran Affairs Committee is investigating whether or not two employees assaulted a patient in January. Surveillance video shows two VA employees beating a patient on January 8th.
“It was pretty much an assault that shouldn’t have occurred,” Marshall Harris, a Memphis VA employee, told a local Fox affiliate. “And it should not have occurred and when it occurred you should’ve reported it. That’s the bottom line.”
A video of the assault has been reviewed by the Chairman of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, David Roe who sent FOX13 an email regarding the alleged assault saying,
“The allegations of patient abuse at the Memphis VA Medical Center are serious, unacceptable and should not be taken lightly.”
Congressman David Kustoff, 8th District Tennessee said:
“I am deeply troubled by the allegations of misconduct at the Memphis VA Medical Center. My staff and I will continue to monitor the situation and provide any assistance Chairman Roe may need in this investigation.”