VA union leaders angry over bonuses paid during Legionnaires' outbreak
By Luis Fábregas, Mike Wereschagin and Adam Smeltz
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013, 3:36 p.m.
Veterans Affairs union leaders on Thursday expressed outrage over performance bonuses awarded to top VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System leaders amid a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
“I was shocked,” Kathi Dahl, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2028, said about the five-figure bonuses that were first reported in the Tribune-Review. The local union represents about 2,500 employees at the VA Oakland and O'Hara facilities.
Terry Wolf, director and CEO of the VA Pittsburgh hospitals, received a $12,924 bonus for fiscal year 2011. Her boss, VA regional director Michael Moreland, who oversees most of Pennsylvania and all or parts of four other states under so-called VISN4, received $15,619 that fiscal year, the Trib reported.
“When I see (Wolf's and Moreland's bonuses) combined, that, to me, is a full-time employee,” Dahl said.
David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he was “stunned” by the bonus figures. AFGE is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 federal workers, including 208,000 employees within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Nurses, doctors, support staff and others are forced to do more with less in order to care for our vets, while executives are rewarded for mismanagement,” Cox said. “This has to end.”
Calls for accountability were sounded on Thursday in Washington, where Moreland and Wolf appeared at the request of a bipartisan House delegation from Western Pennsylvania that asked for more stringent infection-control guidelines.
U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills; Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair; and Keith Rothfus, R-Edgeworth, asked VA leaders to set up written guidelines outlining duties and responsibilities for infection control, the lawmakers said afterward in a joint statement.
“Moving forward, we want to make sure every precaution is being taken to control Legionella and give the best possible care to any veteran in the Pittsburgh region,” the House members said.
Moreland and Wolf declined interview requests through Pittsburgh VA spokesman David Cowgill.
The bonuses, referred to by the VA as “awards,” are given at a time when cost-of-living increases for federal employees have remained frozen since 2012 by executive order, Cowgill acknowledged.
In addition, VA officials in recent years eliminated retention bonuses for nurses and police, Dahl said. Bonuses for unionized employees typically range from $50 to $250, she said.
Cowgill said employees are eligible to participate in the VA's Employee Awards and Recognition Program, which recognizes the accomplishments of employees both as individuals and as members of groups or teams. He said facility directors are authorized to approve as much as $5,000 in individual awards and $16,000 for group awards. When asked if those amounts have ever been awarded, he told a reporter to file a Freedom of Information request.
The VA Inspector General's Healthcare Inspections division this week issued a report showing a series of failures that contributed to the outbreak from February 2011 through November 2012. The Trib revealed on Thursday that the inspector general is conducting a separate criminal probe into the outbreak.
“VA leadership's poor oversight of the Legionella problem put our veterans and our employees at risk. They must be held accountable,” said Alma Lee, AFGE National VA Council President. “This report shows us where the VA dropped the ball. Now we must keep the pressure on to ensure that either Mr. Moreland, or those who find his performance acceptable, is held accountable.”
Luis Fábregas, Mike Wereschagin and Adam Smeltz are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Fábregas can be reached at 412-320-7998 or email@example.com. Wereschagin can be reached at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Second-period short-handed goal gives Blue Jackets momentum
- One dead, one wounded in shooting at Chartiers party
- Blue Jackets score a franchise first with playoff victory
- Pair of Braun homers spells defeat for Pirates
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- Trib prospect: Aliquippa’s Patrick Anderson
- Unbeaten Arizona outlasts Power, 73-69
- Penguins say playoff series against Columbus could fuel rivalry
- Pope Francis inspires incredible optimism