Fact Finder: Union Says V.A. Retaliated Against Whistleblowers

Reported by: Joe Hart
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Updated: 11/12/2012 3:53 pm

Doctors Ralph Coppola and Vidur Mahadeva both worked at the Reno V.A. Hospital, unitl last month.  Coppola as an E-N-T surgeon, Mahadeva in the emergency room.

 Both doctors, who worked part time, recently received the exact same letter, telling them they'd been terminated. 
 The letter did not give a reason.

"The letter of termination was 2 days after your report was on TV,"  Coppola told News 4.

The letters to Doctors Coppola and Mahadeva were each dated September 13th:  two days after News 4's Fact Finder report aired uncovering the results of an investigation conducted at the V.A. Hospital by the Office of the Medical Inspector.  The O.M.I. report produced 53 recommendations to improve patient care at the V.A.
 Both Coppola and Mahadeva met with  O.M.I.  representives during their investigation to voice their concerns about staffing, patient care timelines and other quality of care issues at the V.A. Hospital.

 "Both of us tried to offer constructive cricitism and were under the impression we were helping our vets at the time.  Both of us lost our jobs soon thereafter," said Dr. Mahadeva.

Jeanine Swygman is the vice president of the union which represents Doctors Coppola and Mahadeva.  She says its clear the firings were retaliation by the V.A.

"Absolutely.  The timing was two days after your story aired on the O.M.I. Report," said Swygman.

 The V.A. Hospital would not comment on camera about the firings.  But spokesman Darin Farr told News 4 off camera the timing had nothing to with our story or the O.M.I investigation.

But Farr also told News 4 both doctors were considered to be temporary and were therefore at-will employees who could be fired without notice.
 However, their own employment records from the V.A. hospital clearly show both doctors' status as permanent, not temporary.

According to the union, permanent also means employees have a right to an evidentiary hearing with their supervisor before any termination can be finalized.

 The V.A. has yet to explain the discrepancy over the doctors' employment records.

Meantime the union has filed grievances in both cases, hoping arbitration will settle once and for all whether these two doctors were fired illegally. 

Federal law, and the V.A.'s own policy spelled out in a directive from the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs protects whistleblowers from any form of retalitation. 

Both doctors say they remain puzzled and frustrated.
 "After such a long time with the V.A. to suddenly be terminated without reason and not being given clear reason when we're asking is extremely suspect," said Dr. Mahadeva.

News 4 asked Dr. Coppola if he considers himself a whistleblower ?
"In the sense that I'm fighting for patients rights, yes," he said.  And the message when somebody speaks up is clear, he says.
"You get fired."

As for the grievance process, the union says it could take up to a year to be resolved.

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Veteran - 1/25/2013 6:21 PM
0 Votes
I'm a veteran with some first hand experience with Bad Boy Ralph Copolla, MD at the Reno VA Hospital. HE provided incompetent and inadequate services to THIS veteran topping it off with a god-plex attitude and saying loudly he, also a sexist, doesn't understand Why the VA has Women's Health. I'm sure there is a paper trail as I brought in the patient advocate about him..

dnotes - 11/7/2012 11:32 AM
0 Votes
Veterans: We need to demand uniformity of care throughout the VA medical system. It is my experience that VA care at hospitals closest to centers of research=better care vs. those VA hospitals farther away and I have received care from the best at those in the San Francisco Bay Area/Stanford to the strongly questionable in Texas, Oregon and here in Reno,Nevada. If you have a serious medical condition the best VA hospitals are nearest to centers of research such as Stanford/San Francisco and your care will increasingly be compromised the farther away you are geographically. Shinsheki needs to receive a petition from Veterans to demand uniformity of care vs. the compromise I have experienced across multiple VA Medical centers.

BDeckwa - 11/1/2012 10:08 PM
0 Votes
I wrote to Senator Reid after the first report talking about everyone getting laid off ot the hospital and the lousy parking. I received a letter back from Dr. Kurk the Director. He said there are no problems in the staffin g of the hospital, that they have plenty of people and there was enough parking for patients and staff. After the second reports came out, I wrote Senator Reid again. I told him that Dr. Kurk hasn't been down on the street to see all the cars in front of the local residents houses taking up their parking because the hospital doesn't have enough of their own. Dr. Kurk said they would be working on a new parking structure in 2014. I've been scheduled for appointment only to have them moved. Dr. Kurk really isn't good for the hospital. Why shoulld a patient sit for hours in emergency?

Steven Dimmer - 10/30/2012 6:23 AM
0 Votes
It's sad to see doctors who have worked for VA Reno for a long time fired for speaking out. It's clear the NO FEAR ACT was skirted using "at will" employment pretext. Why would anyone go into federal service for an "at will" employment, while private sector ENT and emergency room docs can make a lot more money. Ultimately this hurts our veterans.

Steven Dimmer - 10/30/2012 6:18 AM
0 Votes

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