Waste, fraud and abuse… that's what a whistleblower says they saw first-hand at the Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg.
And when she reported it all, instead of taking action against the reported wrongdoing, she says she faced retaliation.
“I would go 4 to 6 hours sitting at my desk surfing the internet,” said Linda Madero.
Madero says her typical work day at Bay Pines VA Hospital involved very little work.
“Everybody seemed to be fine with me sitting there doing nothing,” she said.
Madero was not used to being bored when she started work at Bay Pines.
During 15 years in the U.S. Army, she worked as a medical technician, including in elite units created to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases like Ebola and defend against biological attacks.
In 2012, Madero came highly recommended from another VA hospital to work at Bay Pines as a cytotechnologist, in which she was assigned to collect and analyze cells from biopsies to detect cancer.
“Any VA position as a cytotechnologist is what we called the Willy Wonka golden ticket,” Madero said.
Madero immediately wanted to begin saving other veterans' lives, but she says the co-worker assigned to train her had other ideas.
“She's very hostile. She's very territorial, she's very protective,” she said.
In the VA system, a senior co-worker has to sign off on work-skills called "competencies" before new employees are allowed to perform tasks on their own.
These range from using computers to preparing specimens.
Madero's co-worker took nearly a year to sign off on some competencies, and never signed off on fine needle aspiration... one of Madero's main tasks.
“I wanted to make sure my supervisor in my department understood if you think that this other cytotechnologist is training me, she is not. I wrote them emails, I spoke to them face to face,” she said.
While Madero couldn't collect specimens, the other cytotechnologist racked up lots of overtime.
“My coworker was getting $200 to $900 every pay period in overtime alone,” Madero said. “While I’m surfing the net.”
That co-worker's time card shows she often arrived early and stayed late, claiming 256 hours of overtime in ten months, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $10,000.
“It was blatantly obvious that she was milking overtime,” Madero said.
Madero made an official complaint and the VA investigated.
Her supervisor wrote "these hours were justified” and told investigators when Madero "started complaining she is bored… I assured her there would be no negative repercussions for 'down time.'"
Madero says after she reported her concerns about the overtime, retaliation began.
Two prior reviews characterized Madero as "fully successful", but her supervisors requested she be mentally and physically evaluated -- and transferred.
“I had worked in the library, I had worked in prosthetics, and they put me in the department of education,” she said.
Madero filed a complaint with the EEOC, claiming discrimination based on race, disability and reprisal, which was partially accepted after investigators found evidence of a “hostile and abusive work environment.”
The case was eventually settled.
We reached out to the VA, and this was their statement:
“I am unable to comment or provide information related to personnel actions. Additionally, this individual has pending legal matters with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I am unable, nor is it appropriate, to speak to pending legal proceedings. This is true even if the individual provided written authorization for me to do so.
To comment generally on operational efficiency, we pride ourselves and our ability to provide efficient, timely and high quality health care services to the Veterans we serve across southwest Florida. To broadly illustrate this, our dedicated workforce served more than 107,000 patients and completed over 1.4 million appointments (or nearly 4,000 appointments per day). Ninety-eight percent of these appointments were completed within 30 days of patients’ clinically indicated appointment dates (the date identified as medically appropriate to schedule an appointment for a patient given his or her medical condition).
Lastly, we continue to streamline and improve operational efficiency with existing business processes through the use of Lean and Six Sigma performance improvement methodologies and have become a national leader and early adopter of new programs that provide value added services to the men and women we serve.”
-- Jason W. Dangel,Public Affairs Officer | U.S. Army OIF Veteran
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
Madero resigned as part of the agreement, but wants the public to know there are still plenty of problems at the VA.
“It's not the whole VA. It’s a few key players that are ruining it,” Madero said.
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