Report: Sen. Baldwin’s ‘Constituent Services’ Botched Response To The Tomah VA Report

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 1:05 PM
Report: Sen. Baldwin’s ‘Constituent Services’ Botched Response To The Tomah VA Report

Right before CPAC, Sen. Tammy Baldwin decided to address the controversy surrounding her over a report that highlighted the unusually high rate of opiate prescriptions at the Veterans Affairs center in Tomah, Wisconsin which is linked to three deaths. She said a comprehensive review was being conducted.

Now, in the report over the incident, it blames sloppy constituent services and mistakes from senior staff members for the delay in action, but also stressed that Sen. Baldwin didn’t intentionally sit on the report (via AP):

A report commissioned by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office blames her constituent services team for mishandling a report on overmedication problems at a Tomah Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, but also acknowledges that senior staff members made mistakes.

The review, done by Perkins Coie, a Seattle-based law firm, found that the Madison Democrat’s office ineffectively communicated constituent concerns about the Tomah hospital, but did not intentionally sit on the report. Baldwin’s office released a five-page summary of the findings Friday.

The constituent services team failed to take proper action in passing on complaints of painkiller overprescribing practices to senior staff members, the report said, and all staff members took too long in reacting to constituent concerns.

“The bottom line is this: Senator Baldwin’s staff took some important steps to investigate the abuses at Tomah VA, but then missed numerous chances to follow up and press for action,” the report said.

Baldwin said she accepts that her staff erred, and said her office would redouble its efforts to improve communication.

“There were missed opportunities for my office to move forward more swiftly,” she said Friday. “And I take responsibility for that.”

Nevertheless, the Tomah VA report was given to her office last summer, and when Ryan Honl, the whistleblower on the prescription practices, learned that Sen. Baldwin had the report for months last November; he emailed her office multiple times to take action, according to emails obtained by USA Today.

Additionally, the AP noted that the review singled out Baldwin’s deputy state director for constituent services, Marquette Baylor–though it didn’t mention her by name–for the messy communication over the VA report. Baylor was fired due to the fallout from this controversy last January.

At the same time, the article also mentions that Baldwin’s colleague, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), also received disturbing information from Tomah VA center from Honl, and his staffers promised to bring these complaints to the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Contracting Oversight; Johnson never moved forward with these complaints, citing the 2014 elections.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald has already sent his top people to investigate the center, and Veterans Affairs unveiled a new computer tool earlier this month aimed at helping doctors track their patients' use of prescription drugs:

The program, called the opioid therapy risk report, provides information about appropriate dosages for patients experiencing pain symptoms. About 2,000 VA doctors across the country now have access to the program, said Carolyn Clancy, the VA’s interim secretary for health.

“We’re not waiting for reviews to be done to improve how we do opioid safety,” Clancy said Monday. “This just makes the right thing really easy to do... and that’s the whole point.”

The VA is investigating reports of overprescribing and retaliatory behavior at Tomah. Separate investigations also have been launched by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.