Search Journal-type in search term and press enter
Social Media-Follow Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care on Facebook and Twitter


Last 50 News Postings

 (Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

CEO Compensation-One Reason Healthcare Costs So Much
Doctor or Money Shortage in California?
FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Resigns
Physicians Generate an Average $2.4 Million a Year Per Hospital
Drug Prices Continue to Rise
New Center for Physician Rights
CMS Decreases Clinic Visit Payments to Hospital-Employed Physicians
   and Expands Decreases in Drug Payments 340B Cuts
Big Pharma Gives Millions to Congress
Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem Closed
CMS’ Star Ratings Miscalculated
VA Announces Aggressive New Approach to Produce Rapid Improvements
   in VA Medical Centers
Healthcare Payments Under the Budget Deal: Mostly Good News
   for Physicians
Hospitals Plan to Start Their Own Generic Drug Company
Flu Season and Trehalose
MedPAC Votes to Scrap MIPS
CMS Announces New Payment Model
Varenicline (Chantix®) Associated with Increased Cardiovascular Events
Tax Cuts Could Threaten Physicians
Trump Nominates Former Pharmaceutical Executive as HHS Secretary
Arizona Averages Over 25 Opioid Overdoses Per Day
Maryvale Hospital to Close
California Enacts Drug Pricing Transparency Bill
Senate Health Bill Lacks 50 Votes Needed to Proceed
Medi-Cal Blamed for Poor Care in Lawsuit
Senate Republican Leadership Releases Revised ACA Repeal and Replace Bill
Mortality Rate Will Likely Increase Under Senate Healthcare Bill
University of Arizona-Phoenix Receives Full Accreditation
Limited Choice of Obamacare Insurers in Some Parts of the Southwest
Gottlieb, the FDA and Dumbing Down Medicine
Salary Surveys Report Declines in Pulmonologist, Allergist and Nurse 
CDC Releases Ventilator-Associated Events Criteria
Medicare Bundled Payment Initiative Did Not Reduce COPD Readmissions
Younger Smokers Continue to Smoke as Adults: Implications for Raising the
   Smoking Age to 21
Most Drug Overdose Deaths from Nonprescription Opioids
Lawsuits Allege Price Fixing by Generic Drug Makers
Knox Named Phoenix Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs
Rating the VA Hospitals
Garcia Resigns as Arizona University VP
Combination Influenza Therapy with Clarithromycin-Naproxen-Oseltamivir
   Superior to Oseltamivir Alone
VAP Rates Unchanged
ABIM Overhauling MOC
Substitution of Assistants for Nurses Increases Mortality, Decreases Quality
CMS Releases Data on Drug Spending
Trump Proposes Initial Healthcare Agenda
Election Results of Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
ACGME Proposes Dropping the 16 Hour Resident Shift Limit
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: RT Out, Pembrolizumab In, and Vaccine
   Hope or Hype


For an excel file with complete news listings click here.

A report from Heartwire described a letter written by Peter Wilmshurst to the AHA asking for full disclosure of conflicts of interest in the MIST trial. Wilmshurst was portrayed in SWJPCC on April 27, 2012 in our Profiles of Medical Courage series. We felt the report of the letter might be of interest to the readership of SWJPCC but there was no good section to pass along the Heartwire article. For this reason, a new Section entitled “News” has been started to report developments outside the usual medical journal purview or from other sources which might interest our readers. We encourage bringing news-worthy articles to our attention and would welcome submission of written reports of such articles.


Entries in Phoenix VA (5)


Another Phoenix VA Director Leaves

The Arizona Republic reports that the director at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, Deborah Amdur, will retire after only 9 months for health reasons (1).  Amdur will be replaced by Barbara Fallen, director of the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System. Fallen will be interim director until a permanent replacement for Amdur can be found. This is the fifth hospital director since former Director Sharon Helman was removed in mid-2014 amid the nationwide veterans health-care scandal that was first exposed at the Phoenix VA.

The Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) in Gilbert, which oversees the VA Medical Center in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas has also been through a series of 4 directors since Susan Bowers retired under pressure in the wake of the VA scandal. Marie Weldon, current acting regional director, also oversees the Los Angeles-based VA Desert Pacific Healthcare System. Weldon described Fallen as “an experienced leader who will continue the tremendous effort being made to improve access to high quality health care for veterans in the Phoenix area.”

Amdur's retirement comes just one day after 12 News KPNX in Phoenix reported a taped conversation between a patient and employees at the Southeast VA Clinic in Gilbert (2). During the visit a nurse called the patient phone scheduling system “a nightmare", and a doctor employed by the VA for 3 months said he was “not a fan of the VA” and complained that assigning him 500 patients on May 23rd did not allow him sufficient time with patients. According to the tape the doctor expresses his desire to help but simply states, “It’s just I’m so lost in what to do.” Regarding the audio recording, Director Amdur said before her resignation that "the agency is looking into the matter" and threatened "actions with the providers involved”.

Congressman Matt Salmon, who represents Arizona's 5th District which includes the Southeast VA Clinic, told 12 News he was “disappointed” by what the audio recording revealed and does not consider it an anomaly. Salmon said while there are pressing matters facing the agency, he is optimistic new leadership can help turn it around. "I have nothing but praise for Director Amdur who is running the (Phoenix) VA. I think she is a breath of fresh air," Salmon said. "But the problem is so many people who still work there are the people that were there when the problem was created and getting rid of people that don’t do the job the way they are supposed to is almost impossible in the VA." Salmon said the VA's HR system needs to be revamped in order to recruit higher-quality employees. "It needs to be streamlined so that when they find good doctors they are able to hire them quickly," Salmon said.

Amdur's threats and Salmon's comments are in line with the last 2 and a half years of VA excuses for poor care by blaming bad employees rather than mismanagement and lack of oversight. Both the nurse and the doctor are new to the VA and will likely shortly be gone for telling the truth further worsening the shortage of providers. As predicted 2 and half years ago, no fundamental changes have been made at the VA and it is not surprising that problems with patient scheduling persist (3). The last 20 years demonstrate that if the VA wants to provide the best of care, it is time to stop putting VA bureaucrats in charge and replace them with professionals who know something about it, doctors and nurses. Those doctors and nurses need to be overseen by a local committee of professionals to ensure that Veterans get the best of care. Otherwise no real change occurs and VA bureaucrats and politicians will continue to blame bad employees rather than a bad system. If no fundamental change is made, it may be time to scrap the VA system and send patients to outside providers as suggested by both the patient who made the recording and implied by Salmon.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Wagner D. Phoenix VA hospital getting yet another boss. Arizona Republic. August 26, 2016. Available at: (accessed 8/27/16).
  2. Dana J. VA cancer patient secretly records doctor visit. 12 News KPNX. August 25, 2016. Available at: (accessed 8/27/16).
  3. Robbins RA. VA administrators breathe a sigh of relief. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(6):336-9. doi:

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or California Thoracic Societies or the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Robbins does see VA patients under the Veterans Choice Act.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Another Phoenix VA director leaves. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(2):95-6. doi: PDF


Troubles Continue for the Phoenix VA

According to the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (Joint Commission, JCAHO), an independent organization that reviews hospitals, the Phoenix VA does not comply with U.S. standards for safety, patient care and management (1). The hospital was at the epicenter of the national scandal over the quality of care being afforded to the nation's veterans where the now notorious practice of double-booking patient appointments was first exposed. The hospital's indifferent management provoked congressional investigations that uncovered still more system-wide abuses leading to the removal of the hospital director and the resignation of then VA secretary, Eric Shinseki. The hospital maintains its accreditation but with a follow-up survey in 1-6 months where it must show that it has successfully addressed the 13 identified problems (1). Inspectors who conducted the review in July found that VA employees were unable to report concerns "without retaliatory action from the hospital." Other alarming deficiencies were that Phoenix administrators did not maintain a "safe, functional environment" or "a culture of safety and quality." They concluded that the hospital does not have adequate policies and procedures to "guide and support patient care, treatment and services."

Elizabeth Eaken Zhani, a media relations manager at the JCAHO, stressed that noncompliance findings do not typically lead to a loss of accreditation (2). Of more than 4,000 medical facilities evaluated each year, she said, less than 1 percent are denied accreditation. The Phoenix VA has a right to appeal and an opportunity to correct failings so the hospital meets national standards. In a written statement October 20, VA officials said plans have been developed with an expectation that compliance issues will be resolved within 120 days. "We are also working diligently to address the cultural issues identified by The Joint Commission and have implemented a number of items to enable employees to raise concerns about safety or quality without fear of retaliation...".

In 2010, the Phoenix VA was among 20 VA medical centers to earn The JCAHO's "Top Performer" honor. The most recent audit, in 2011, showed Phoenix at or above target values established by the commission for every major category of health care and administration. It is unclear if care quickly deteriorated at the VA over three short years or previous JCAHO evaluations were inadequate. JCAHO inspections usually are conducted by a retired hospital administrator, physician and nurse. They usually review policies and procedures and rarely meet with physicians, nurses, technicians or clerks directly involved in patient care.

In an editorial entitled "After ALL THAT, Phoenix VA still fails review?!" the Arizona Republic (3) stated the "Phoenix VA is the hospital the VA would want to get right. The one at which the troubled agency would throw all its resources to assure that, despite all evidence to the contrary, VA leaders really did know what they were doing. And, yet, the Phoenix VA flunked its review". The editorial goes on to say that, "Perhaps the most fundamental flaw in the VA system is the forbidding culture of the organization, which regularly and ruthlessly punished whistle-blowers. You would think that, above all else, the VA's new administrators would strive to assure that that malignant practice was banished. Didn't happen. Failure to assure that a VA worker could 'report concerns about safety or the quality of care to (the reviewing agency) without retaliatory action from the hospital' was at the top of the Joint Commission's list of findings". The Republic goes on to say that "The Joint Commission's audit provides still more evidence of the intransigence [pigheaded] and resistance to change that the VA presents to even the most determined reformers".

Richard A. Robbins, MD


Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care


  1. The Joint Commission. Phoenix VA Health Care System: Summary of accreditation quality information. Available at: (accessed 10/23/14).
  2. Wagner D. Phoenix VA hospital fails outside compliance review. Arizona Republic. October 21, 2014. Available at: (accessed 10/23/14).
  3. Editorial board. After ALL THAT, Phoenix VA still fails review?! Arizona Republic. October 22, 2014. Available at: (accessed 10/23/14).  

Reference as: Robbins RA. Troubles continue for the Phoenix VA. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(4):240-1. doi: PDF


Whistle-Blower Accuses VA Inspector General of a "Whitewash"

Yesterday, Dr. Sam Foote, the initial whistle-blower at the Phoenix VA, criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general's (VAOIG) report on delays in healthcare at the Phoenix VA at a hearing before the House Committee of Veterans Affairs (1,2). Foote accused the VAOIG of minimizing bad patient outcomes and deliberately confusing readers, downplaying the impact of delayed health care at Phoenix VA facilities. "At its best, this report is a whitewash. At its worst, it is a feeble attempt at a cover-up," said Foote. Foote earlier this year revealed that as many as 40 Phoenix patients died while awaiting care and that the Phoenix VA maintained secret waiting lists while under-reporting patient wait times for appointments. His disclosures triggered the national VA scandal.

Richard Griffin, the acting VAOIG, said that nearly 300 patients died while on backlogged wait lists in the Phoenix VA Health Care System, a much higher number than the 40 listed in his August 26 investigative report (1). However, he defended his office's report and conclusion that the VAOIG could not "conclusively assert" that any veteran deaths were "caused by" untimely care. Dr. John Daigh, Griffin's assistant inspector general, seemed to disagree saying that excessive wait times not only negatively affected veterans, but helped lead to deaths.

Griffin's office has also been accused of allowing VA personnel to "soften" the report-a charge which he denied. Griffin was taken to task by the committee for not providing the original (unaltered) copy of the report which had been requested.

Robert McDonald, the recently appointed VA Secretary also testified. McDonald had come under fire the day before in a letter from Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake for inaction against senior VA officials (3). McCain and Flake said, "Senior VA leaders have ... not been held accountable for delaying and denying patient care, silencing and intimidating whistle-blowers, and enriching themselves by manipulating wait-time statistics to receive undeserved performance bonuses." McDonald and Griffin replied that 19 disciplinary actions are in process and OIG investigators are working with the FBI and Justice Department on possible prosecutions.

Richard A. Robbins, MD


Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care


  1. Office of VA Inspector General. Review of alleged patient deaths, patient wait times, and scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA health care system. Available at: (accessed 9/18/14).
  2. C Span. Phoenix VA Inspector General's Report. House Committee of Veterans Affairs. September 17, 2014. Available at: (accessed 9/18/14).
  3. Wagner D. Inspector general: care delay may be factor in VA deaths. USA Today. September 18, 2014. Available at: (accessed 9/18/14). 

Reference as: Robbins RA. Whistle-blower accuses VA inspector general of a "whitewash". Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(3):185-6. doi: PDF 


VA Office of Inspector General Releases Scathing Report of Phoenix VA

The long-awaited Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) was released on August 27, 2014 (1). The report was scathing in its evaluation of VA practices and leadership. Five questions were investigated:

  1. Were there clinically significant delays in care?
  2. Did PVAHCS omit the names of veterans waiting for care from its Electronic Wait List (EWL)?
  3. Were PVAHCS personnel not following established scheduling procedures?
  4. Did the PVAHCS culture emphasize goals at the expense of patient care?
  5. Are scheduling deficiencies systemic throughout the VA?

In each case, the OIG found that the allegations were true. Despite initial denials, the OIG report showed that former PVAHCS director Sharon Helman, associate director Lance Robinson, hospital administration director Brad Curry, chief of staff Darren Deering and other senior executives were aware of delays in care and unofficial wait lists.

Perhaps most disturbing is the OIG finding that scheduling deficiencies are systemic throughout the VA. The OIG is currently investigating 90 VA facilities. The findings prompted Rep. Jeff Miller, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman to comment “We have seen no evidence that the corrupt bureaucrats who created the VA scandal will be purged from the department’s payroll anytime soon. Until that happens, VA will never be fixed,” (2).

Though whistleblowers alleged veterans died while awaiting care in Phoenix, acting Inspector General Richard Griffin did not draw any conclusions about criminal culpability and declared that he was “unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.” Phoenix whistleblowers Drs. Sam Foote and Katherine Mitchell, said the OIG standard made no sense because 45 examples described in the OIG report showed that delayed care likely resulted in premature deaths or harm to patients’ quality of life. It is the later standard that is usually applied to physicians.

The day prior to the release of the report the Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson was interviewed noting that more veterans are being sent to private doctors for care reducing waiting times (3). "The fundamental point here is, we are taking bold and decisive action to fix these problems because it's unacceptable," said Gibson. It is unclear whether these reports of improved waiting times are any more reliable than the initial denials of prolonged patient waiting times from both the Phoenix VA and VA Central Office.

Richard A. Robbins, MD


Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care


  1. Office of VA Inspector General. Review of alleged patient deaths, patient wait times, and scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA health care system. Available at: (accessed 8/26/14).
  2. Wagner D, Lee M. Scathing VA report stirs outcry for accountability. Arizona Republic. Available at: (accessed 8/27/14).
  3. Associated Press. Watchdog report details ‘systemic’ problems at VA facilities. Available at: (accessed 8/25/14). 

Reference as: Robbins RA. VA office of inspector general releases scathing report of Phoenix VA. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(2):140-1. doi: PDF


Helman Defends Decision to Pull VA Sponsorship of Veterans Day Parade

Sharon Helman, Phoenix VA Director, defended her decision to cancel VA sponsorship of the annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade in a 4/10/13 email to VA employees. Helman said that VA sponsorship was cancelled because of “…priorities in the organization (specifically access), and heightened awareness over liability concerns which VA Legal Counsel brought forward”. She concluded her letter by warning “… that all media inquiries should be forwarded to Paul Coupaud, Acting Public Affairs Officer”.

VA officials initially said fear of litigation prompted the review of VA support. Last year, a float carrying wounded Veterans in a Midland, Texas, parade collided with a freight train, killing four and injuring 17. Crash victims and their families filed lawsuits in Texas against Union Pacific Railroad and the float owner. The VA was not a defendant, and the VA has not issued any national directives on liability as a result of the tragedy.

In past years, the VA did not contribute cash for the parade. Instead, it served as lead sponsor by providing staging areas at its medical center and allowing Paula Pedene, the former Director of Public Relations at the Phoenix VA, to serve as coordinator. It also provided other support and hosted award events, an essay contest and banquets. Pedene was demoted in the wake of her testimony to the VA Office of Inspector General against former VA administrators. Pedene testified that the Phoenix VA suffered from leadership run amok. She said that agency bosses intimidated employees and created a hostile workplace.

Phoenix VA employees had provided volunteer support on their own time for the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade. No mention has been made of clinical VA employees who participated in parade activities during regular working hours instead of providing care. It is difficult to understand how cancelling sponsorship of the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade will provide increased access to healthcare for Veterans. However, wasting clinical staff time with lengthy and extraneous emails such as the one sent out 4/10/13 or Ms. Helman’s equally lengthy and extraneous weekly e-mails to employees will compromise access. As Helman said in her letter the VA must focus on “bringing additional staff on board” to care for the 81,000 Veterans enrolled at the Phoenix VA. If true, the alleged pattern of abuse, discrimination and retaliation at the Phoenix VA will jeopardize the hiring and retention of the necessary clinical staff to provide Phoenix Veterans access to quality healthcare.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

*Dr. Robbins was the chief of pulmonary and critical care at the Phoenix VA from 2003-11.

Reference as: Robbins RA. Helman defends decision to pull VA sponsorship of Veterans day parade. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(4):180. PDF