Federal VA officials investigating allegations made against VA facility in Leeds


A heart-wrenching affidavit written from the death bed of a local VA doctor.

“It’s my final wish to complete this affidavit so I can memorialize and testify to the above information so I can attempt to change systemic and dangerous patient care, dangerous practices, and public safety issues.”

Dr. Sarah Kemble was the Chief of Medicine at the VA facility in Leeds. She lost her battle to cancer this past winter, and in the days leading up to her death, she wrote a 23-page affidavit accusing the VA Central Western MA Healthcare System of substandard care, that ranged from delays in medical treatment to misuse of funds.

Kemble’s attorney, Lisa Brodeur-McGan, was by her side as she documented the allegations.”From her bed in her home where she was dying, she essentially testified under oath, that this is a true and accurate memorializion of what was happening at the VA.”

Since our story aired last month, several veterans have contacted the I-Team with similar allegations against the VA in Leeds, including one woman who knew Dr. Kemble.

She didn’t want to reveal her identity, but called the I-Team to tell us about her experience with the VA. “Everything she said in her testimony, is still going on today.”

The woman we spoke to alleges that the Leeds facility doesn’t have necessary medical equipment, or services like labs, radiology, and psychiatric care, after 4PM or on weekends.

Andre Bowser, a spokesperson for the VA of Central Western Massachusetts sent the I-Team the following statement. 

“That’s false. VACWM psychiatrists are on call during weekday evenings and weekends 24/7. In addition, VACWM psychiatrists round on inpatients on weekends and holidays. The Department of Behavioral Health has a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers seeing patients during the normal duty day at our sites of care in Central and Western Massachusetts.”

The veteran we spoke to also told the I-Team employees who spoke out against management at the VA in Leeds were retaliated against. “Doing your job is very hard because you don’t have the supplies, the resources, and if you bring up those concerns, you get whacked.”

The VA of Central Western Massachusetts also denied those allegations. 

That’s false and there is no evidence to support this allegation. Any employee who feels they are being retaliated against should contact VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

Dr. Kemble made the exact same allegations against the VA facility in Leeds in her testimony, which is now being investigated by the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. 

Kirk Nicholas is the Executive Director of the OAWP. He told the I-Team, the organization takes a 3-fold approach to investigating whistleblower complaints. “Primarily, it is an investigation into disclosures and allegations, looking at senior executives, and they fall into multiple categories, but we also help provide feedback to those same people,” he said. “We’re very proactive in our investigative process of getting people on the ground as quick as we can, taking the interviews.”

Nicholas also told the I-Team out of the 1,700 disclosures their agency has received since it’s inception last June, a little over 100 have been validated as whistleblower disclosures and investigated.

If Dr. Kemble’s allegations prove to be true, Nicholas said their agency will take immediate action.  “Our responsibility in the office is to substantiate those actions, to decide the level of recommendation that we need to make, and then send our recommendations to a proposing official, who will review them and the case material, then provide a recommending action to a deciding official. So they’re all separated so that the case can go on its own merits, and not be influenced by a position or individual.” 

The I-Team also spoke to Philip Works, a senior advisor for the OAWP. He took Dr. Kemble’s testimony before she died. “I’ve never encountered a case like this before. It was probably the toughest set of conversations I’ve ever had. This particular story, the passion in her voice, the obvious energy and effort that she was exerting to make sure her voice was heard, in what amounted to her final days, was inspiring.”

The OAWP’s investigation into Dr. Kemble’s allegations is ongoing.

A spokesperson for the OAWP told the I-Team, Dr. Kemble’s testimony is one of 33 whistleblower complaints that VA employees in Massachusetts have filed since last June. 

Since our first story about Dr. Kemble aired in April, at least a dozen other veterans have contacted the I-Team with allegations against the VA of Central Western Massachusetts, but most of them said they weren’t willing to go on camera, out of fear of retaliation. 

The VA of Central Western Massachusetts sent the I-Team the following response to our story.

“VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System works closely with Veterans to address any concerns regarding their medical care. VACWM’s leadership is ready to meet with any patient to address such concerns to the extent that is medically appropriate. Our mission is to care for Veterans, and to assist them if they have any concerns regarding that care.”

The I-Team has obtained a list of formal complaints made against the VA of Central western Massachusetts between 2016 and 2018. (THESE DO NOT INCLUDE WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINTS) 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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