Loma Linda VA investigated for allegations of employee abuse and hostile work environment

Rob McMillan Image
Monday, June 19, 2023
Loma Linda VA investigated for alleged hostile work environment, abuse
Several whistleblowers have come forward against a supervisor amid investigations into allegations of a hostile work environment and employee abuse at the Veterans Medical Center in Loma Linda.

LOMA LINDA, Calif. (KABC) -- Multiple investigations into allegations of a hostile work environment and abuse at the Veterans Medical Center in Loma Linda resulted in the recommendation of termination for a supervisor at the hospital.

However, administrators have decided to allow the employee to remain at work, even after several whistleblowers have come forward. The situation now has the attention of Rep. Jay Olbernolte (R - Big Bear Lake), who toured the facility Friday morning.

"This was three different investigations, the last of which had a concrete recommendation for termination," said Olbernolte, who said he fears that the problem might extend beyond one employee.

"We in Congress would not be getting involved over a disciplinary action against a single employee," Olbernolte said. "We are concerned about the workplace culture."

Olbernolte would not reveal specifics about what the supervisor was doing to allegedly cause a hostile work environment, out of concerns that providing that information might reveal the identities of the whistleblowers.

But he said the effect the work environment has had on employees is severe.

"One of the things we're looking at is an employee suicide that we fear might be related to this," Olbernolte said.

When asked whether he thought the abuse might extend beyond other employees and that veterans might be suffering because of it, Olbernolte said it's something they're investigating but he doubts it's likely.

"It's something we're looking into, but it's more of a workplace issue than a standard of care issue."

After nearly two months of waiting, Olbernolte said moments before he began his tour of the facility Friday morning, the secretary of Veterans Affairs finally sent a letter responding to his concerns.

"I believe that employees should have a work environment free from harassment and expect Veterans Affairs leadership to fully investigate any allegations of such misconduct," wrote Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis Richard McDonough in the letter. "In the case of the Loma Linda supervisor, the Administrative Investigations Board report recommended the employee's removal.

"After careful consideration of all the available information as well as consultation with the Office of General Counsel, however, management decided that a different penalty was more appropriate. The employee received an administration action."

The letter did not specify what that meant.

"The employee continues to be closely monitored by facility leadership, who have not received any new allegations of harassment or hostile work environment."

Olbernolte said the mere existence of these allegations could jeopardize the quality of care for veterans in the facility.

"We are in competition with many other entities, especially here in Loma Linda, for health care jobs and we want to make sure we get the cream of the crop," Olbernolte said. "And we can't get that if we have the reputation as a workplace that tolerates that kind of abusive behavior."