Across the Creek
In the spring of 1996, an assessment study was performed to ascertain the feasibility of integrating the Tuskegee VA Medical Center with the VA Medical Center located in Montgomery, Alabama. Representative work-groups from both medical centers, the Atlanta Network, veteran service organization officials, along with a paid consultant, participated in the development of findings and conclusions that consolidation should be undertaken. On September 10, 1996, the Honorable Jesse Brown, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, approved the merger. The primary goals of the merger were to improve the quality of healthcare and access to care, reduce administrative costs, and redirect the savings to patient care delivery and enhance patients' satisfaction. The merger created a new organization to be known as "Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System" or CAVHCS. The Tuskegee Campus was designated as the East Campus and Montgomery site was to be recognized as the West Campus. Approved plans stipulated that the West Campus would provide acute, general medical and surgical services. The East Campus new mission would be sub-acute and long-term care and a full range of psychiatric services. Plans also showed that both campuses were expected to continue to provide primary care services.
In January 1997, Jimmie Clay was appointed Health Care System Director for the new organization, CAVHCS. His appointment to this position was the straw that broke the camel's back. As some viewed the event, "all hell broke lose." Shortly after Clay's appointment, a number of extraordinary events occurred that precipitated disappointments and apprehension over the merger and caused a number of stakeholders to question whether the merger should be continued. It was made known in February 1997 that a handful of employees at the Montgomery Campus were upset with the proposed plan presented by Clay that considered centralizing administrative services at the Tuskegee Campus. At least two disgruntled employees wrote protest letters to U.S. Representative Terry Everett, who's Congressional District included part of Montgomery County Alabama.
In March 1997, the Montgomery County Republican Club submitted a letter to Congressman Everett and the other Alabama Republican Congressional delegation opposing the integration's plans and questioned the appointment of Jimmie Clay as Health Care System Director for CAVHCS. Congressman Everett contacted Dr. Kenneth Kizer, Undersecretary for Health at Veterans Health Administration of VA and requested that a scheduled kickoff meeting for the third phase of the merger be cancelled. On April 1, 1997, Dr. Kizer received a very accusatory letter from Congressman Everett, requesting responses to 29 questions and statements in the form of interrogatories aimed at the
Integration and the appointment of Clay. The questions and statements, to a great extent, mirrored those contained in the letter submitted by the Montgomery County Republican Club.
Congressman Everett conducted a personal inspection tour of both campuses with two representatives from the General Accounting Office and held a meeting in his Washington, D.C. office that was attended by certain other Alabama elected officials. Dr. Kizer, Dr. Carter Mecher, Atlanta Network Clinical Manager and Clay were mandated to attend the meeting. On June 9, 1997, Congressman Everett asked Dr. Kizer to bring the merger to a complete halt and announced on this same date that he was directing the Office of Inspector General to investigate allegations of mismanagement at the Tuskegee VAMC. The OIG investigators began their review of the Tuskegee Campus on June 26 and Congressman Everett, serving as Chairman of the House's Oversights & Investigation Subcommittee, held a field hearing on the integration on July 28 at the Federal Court House in Montgomery. The latter part of the