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3 Phoenix VA officials on leave amid claims of secret wait lists

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:54 p.m.
 

PHOENIX — Three executives of the veterans hospital in Phoenix have been placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations of corruption and unnecessary deaths at the facility, officials announced on Thursday.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman and associate director Lance Robinson would be placed on leave “until further notice.” The third employee was not identified in a statement Shinseki issued from Washington.

The Phoenix facility has been under fire in recent weeks over allegations that as many as 40 patients may have died because of delays in care, and to hide delays in treatment, the hospital kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments.

Before the announcement that she would be placed on leave, Helman and the hospital's chief of staff denied any knowledge of a secret list and said they had found no evidence of patient deaths because of delayed care.

“We take those allegations very seriously,” Helman told The Associated Press, noting she welcomed an independent review by the VA Office of Inspector General. Helman's office declined comment after the announcement about leave.

The claims are the latest to come to light as VA hospitals around the country struggle to handle the huge volume of patients who need medical attention, including aging vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and an influx from wars during the last decade. In the past year, VA facilities in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Washington state have been linked to delays in patient care or poor oversight.

Shinseki said the move to put the Phoenix officials on leave was requested by the inspector general's office, which sent investigators to the facility.

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