New England VA Network Director to Retire

Mar 7, 2018

The director of the New England VA Healthcare system announced his retirement Wednesday.

Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith's departure comes a day after New Hampshire's two congresswomen, Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter, called for his removal.

Allegations of mismangement at New England VA facilities have dogged Mayo-Smith over much of the past year. Last summer, a dozen whistleblowers at the Manchester VA came forward with allegations of substandard care that caused some patients lasting harm. They were vocal opponents of Mayo-Smith and called for his removal then.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., VA Secretary David Shulkin announced Mayo-Smith's retirement, as well as those of two other leaders of VA regions called VISNs. Shulkin said they all left voluntarily.

"There should be no attempt to read into anybody being forced out of this organization," Shulkin said. "All three VISN directors are people who have served the VA over long periods of time with great dignity and service and they deserve our gratitude."

Dr. Ed Kois, a leader of the whistleblowers group, said Kuster's call was instrumental in removing Mayo-Smith, whom Kois described as too focused on faulty metrics and unwilling to address problems at the Manchester VA.

"He's like the captain of the ship that doesn't realize that they hit the iceberg three hours ago, and it's almost sunk," said Kois.

Neither Mayo-Smith nor the VA has not responded to NHPR's request for comment. But in his announcement letter to VA staff, Mayo-Smith notes his nearly four decades of service to veterans and "outstanding performance for VISN 1 in many areas such as access, mental health care, patient experience, employee satisfaction and research."

Following the whistleblowers' accusations of substandard care last summer, Secretary Shulkin appointed Mayo-Smith as a co-chair of a task force looking at the future of healthcare for New Hampshire's veterans. He was removed from that task force following complaints from whistleblowers and New Hampshire's congressional delegation.

VA officials at the time insisted that the panel remain "independent of his views," though he did go on to present research to the task force, including metrics showing superior performance for VISN 1 in a variety of areas.

Sources say Mayo-Smith's retirement takes effect immediately. At Wednesday's press conference, Shulkin announced the retirements of VISN leaders overseeing the troubled medical centers in Washington, D.C. and Phoenix, Arizona.

VA Secretary Shulkin says Dr. Bryan Gamble, who had been working at the VA Medical Center in Orlando, Florida, will oversee the New England VA Healthcare System as well as the other two VISNs.

On the subject of Gamble's leadership, Kois said it's best to wait and see.