After calls for ouster, New England VA official to step down

Monitor staff
Thursday, March 08, 2018

Another high-ranking Veterans Affairs official in the region is stepping down.

VA Secretary David Shulkin announced Wednesday that Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith, the director for the VA New England Healthcare Network, will resign in the coming weeks. The move comes just one day after Democratic U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter publicly called for Mayo-Smith’s removal following reports last year of substandard care at New Hampshire VA facilities.

His resignation also arrives on the heels of a new report, released Wednesday by the Inspector General, about widespread problems with oversight at the VA.

At a press conference Wednesday, Shulkin announced leadership changes and restructuring for regional offices in New England; the Southwest; and the Washington, D.C., area. He also pledged a package of reforms, including having independent experts begin making unannounced on-site audits at VA facilities.

“I’m encouraged by the announcement today that the VA New England Healthcare Network will be undergoing changes to address the deficiencies and lack of oversight that allowed care to deteriorate at the Manchester (VA Medical Center) and problems to persist throughout New England,” Kuster said in a statement. “Dr. Mayo-Smith’s decision to retire is the right choice.”

Mayo-Smith had been a key figure in the ongoing controversy at the Manchester VA, where a Boston Globe expose on substandard care last summer triggered the ouster of several top officials and multiple federal investigations.

Whistleblowers at the Manchester VA, including Dr. Stewart Levenson, who is a candidate in the 2nd Congressional District’s Republican primary race, have been calling for Mayo-Smith to be shown the door since last year.

Levenson, who could face off against Kuster this November, has made his role as a whistleblower a keystone of his campaign. He’s also alleged that Kuster, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, did little when doctors came to her for help. He reiterated that line of attack Wednesday.

“It is welcome news that Dr. Mayo-Smith has departed the VA; unfortunately, when Congresswoman Kuster was made aware of the dangers to veterans that Dr. Mayo-Smith presented she chose a course of inaction rather than serving her constituents,” Levenson said in a statement.

He also touted his role in exposing the problems in the first place.

“I co-founded a group of whistleblowers at the Manchester VA to root out corruption and incompetence and immediately called upon Dr. Mayo-Smith to be removed as director of the New England VA Healthcare System and held accountable for his negligence,” Levenson said.

Dr. Ed Kois, another one of the VA whistleblowers, said Wednesday that Levenson tried to raise concerns with Mayo-Smith for years before a group of doctors ultimately went to the press. But he also said Kuster on several occasions pressed leadership at the VA about Mayo-Smith.

“I applaud her persistence,” he said.

Mayo-Smith was also initially appointed chairman of a special task force after the expose to recommend changes in Manchester. He was eventually removed from the panel after the whistleblowers and the state’s congressional delegation, including Kuster, demanded he be taken off.

The task force last week recommended against a full-service hospital being built in New Hampshire, a longtime priority for New Hampshire’s federal delegation and the whistleblowers. Kois said he believed Mayo-Smith’s time on the committee likely predetermined its outcome.

“I think it was tainted by his involvement,” he said. “I think he funneled information to the task force that he wanted to funnel.”


(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to note that Stewart Levenson is a candidate in the Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District, not the 1st.