VA Medical Center names new chief of staff

Dr. J. Thomas Hardy, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who was the vice president of medical affairs at Grandview Medical Center in Dayton for more than a decade, has taken over the administrative post.

Hardy, 67, said he could not comment on what happened during the dental infection control scandal because he wasn’t at the VA medical center at the time. Even so, he said the dental clinic has had a “dramatic turnaround.”

Employees gave the Dayton VA a score of 4 out of five in satisfaction, rising from an average of 2.5, the highest score in the nation among VA dental clinics, according to spokeswoman Kimberly D. Frisco. Patient satisfaction scores were above the VA’s national average in 23 different categories in a survey this summer, according to the Dayton VA. Scores for other VA locations were not released.

Hardy, a former Army Ranger with the 101st Airborne, commanded the Irwin Army Community Hospital at Ft. Riley, Kan., among other roles before he retired from the military. He has a supervisory role over about 750 VA employees who provide health services to more than 37,000 patients.

“I think for somebody with my experience as a Vietnam veteran, as a physician, and as an individual with a significant amount of experience in leading and managing large health care organizations … it’s like the perfect confluence of my background and an opportunity out here,” he said.

Dr. Steven Cohen, the last permanent chief of staff at the Dayton VA, retired shortly after two dental lab technicians had blown the whistle on a dentist’s alleged infection control techniques.

In the interim, two acting chiefs of staff alternately covered the position until a permanent replacement was chosen, according to Kimberly D. Frisco, a VA spokeswoman.

Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said Hardy has an excellent reputation within the medical community. “He’s collaborative in nature and always had the patients’ best interests at the forefront,” he said.

The GDAHA reviewed the VA dental clinic’s procedures in the wake of concerns over infection control procedures.

“They have made significant improvements in their dental clinic,” he said. “It’s something we have been working very closely with them on.”

The dentist whose infection control techniques were scrutinized, Dr. Dwight Pemberton, now 82, has denied whistle blower allegations he failed to change latex gloves and sterilize equipment.

He retired in February 2011 before the VA took disciplinary action against him. He voluntarily retired his Ohio dental license, according to Dayton Daily News archives.

The infection control scandal led to a Senate field hearing at the Dayton VA and was part of a House hearing in Washington. A VA Office of the Inspector General investigation found concerns with infection control procedures in the dental clinic. A follow-up report in January noted the Dayton VA had made changes and followed the recommendations.

The VA offered infection screening last year to 535 veterans who had invasive dental procedures at the clinic between 1992 and July 2010.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, proposed legislation to penalize Veterans Health Administration employees who intentionally fail to follow infection control practices. The bill is pending before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, a Turner spokesman said Wednesday.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Dayton VA director Guy Richardson was reassigned to a VA headquarters job in Cincinnati.

Dr. Andrew Mesaros, the dental service chief, was fired after a VA investigation found he allegedly hadn’t done enough prior to July 2010 to address dental clinic employees concerns about Pemberton’s alleged infection control lapses. Dr. Byron M. Wade has served in the post since August 2011.

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