Dayton VA director plans to return after stint in Phoenix

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Glenn Costie took over as director of the Dayton VA Medical Center in December 2011, tasked with improving community relations after a dentist was found to have not changed gloves or properly sanitize equipment between patients.

Costie began working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 1984 after he graduated from Virginia Tech with a mechanical engineering degree. He worked at medical centers in West Virginia, Chicago, Connecticut, Cleveland, Maryland and then Missouri before coming to Dayton.

He spent 15 years at the Cleveland VA, managing $750 million in construction projects.

Costie said in a 2010 interview with a Missouri news outlet that he was influenced to work in health care by his mother working in the laboratory of a local hospital, where he held his first summer job.

“Between my family involvement and my love for history and what our service men and women have done for our country, working in the VA system was a natural calling,” he told the newspaper.

Dayton VA Medical Center Director Glenn Costie will work to re-instill trust among veterans in the Phoenix VA when he temporarily takes the top executive post at the scandal-plagued Arizona medical center, he told the Dayton Daily News on Friday.

Costie, 53, will find himself in the center of the national controversy over the Phoenix VA's appointment scheduling practices that spawned a nationwide review of delays throughout the federal agency's 731 sites, led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and the removal of top leadership at the Phoenix medical center.

The medical facility, which serves 85,000 veterans, allegedly kept a “secret” waiting list to avoid disclosing actual wait times for patients, some of whom reportedly died while waiting for care.

“They know when they get into the system they’re going to get high quality medical care,” Costie said. “The frustration has been getting access to that care, and I’m going to begin working on that almost immediately.”

Phoenix VA staff have called veterans on waiting lists every day to schedule care, he said. He said he’ll also push plans to lease an additional 350,000-square-feet of space to treat patients and will take an interest in the welfare of VA employees.

“The staff have been under an unbelievable microscope for the last eight weeks and I think they’ve been working around the clock to respond to their concerns of their veterans and I want to make sure we begin addressing some of their fatigue issues and make sure that we take care of the staff at the Phoenix VA,” he said.

He”ll be in Phoenix July 9 through Nov. 6 where he will oversee 2,500 employees and a $500 million budget. The 30-year VA veteran said he intends to reach out to the Phoenix community and veterans, but plans to return to and eventually retire at the Dayton VA.

“That would be my preference,” he said. “I am very committed to the Dayton VA. I plan to end my career here. I enjoy being a member of the Dayton community.”

Costie was named Dayton VA leader in December 2011 to restore trust in the medical center after the public learned a dentist there had not properly changed gloves or sterilized equipment for nearly 20 years. After a change in dental clinic leadership, Costie said patient satisfaction rose to the highest in the VA.

A VA memo dated June 18 said Costie was chosen for the top spot in Phoenix because he has “extensive leadership experience, strong management skills and an exceptional ability to function successfully in the face of significant changes and challenges.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis said in an email the VA needs “first and foremost to identify and fix what’s broken, to hold people appropriately accountable to the maximum extent of the law, and to help restore the faith veterans must have in their VA.

“And even though this is a temporary assignment, we hope Mr. Costie is the right person to help fix what is a crisis in care and confidence in Phoenix,” Davis said.

Margaret I. Kruckemeyer, a retired Dayton VA nurse practitioner and hospital volunteer, said Costie has been a network builder and not hidden from negativity about the VA.

“He’s not an ostrich,” said Kruckemeyer, past president of the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs. “He actually is very honest and open and forthright with people.”

Paul E. Griffith, 71, a Vietnam veteran who has been treated at the Dayton VA and has mixed reviews about its performance, doubted Costie’s appointment would change much.

Griffith said a better approach would be to appoint an outside medical administrator in that post.

“Sending one guy from the VA to another VA is not going to fix the problem,” said Griffith, an Army veteran from Eaton. “The whole system needs not just a Band-Aid but a complete overhaul.”

Ohio congressional lawmakers had a mixed response to the appointment.

“Increased transparency and accountability will be important steps to help us ensure that veterans are receiving the care they need and deserve,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in an email. “Having heard directly from so many veterans in Dayton over the past few weeks about their experience with the Dayton VA Medical Center, I’m hopeful that Glenn Costie will take his leadership experience to work to correct the mismanagement that has plagued the Phoenix facility.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in an email Costie is “well prepared to take on the challenges at the Phoenix VA Medical Center and must work to ensure accountability is reestablished in that system.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said Costie had excelled at the Dayton VA and “is the perfect person to tackle the fundamental and systematic problems plaguing the Phoenix VA.”

House Speaker John Boehner said: “Frankly, nothing has changed – we have yet to see the president offer a long-term vision for reforming the systemic problems plaguing the VA. A few personnel changes can’t be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem, and none of this absolves the president of his responsibility to personally step in and make things right for our veterans. ”

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