In 2016, Kelly Hale, a staff dentist at the Billings VA clinic, revealed statewide dental practices that risked patient health. Hale has remained employed at the VA, but has not been seeing patients since the Billings clinic has been shut down. Hale’s current role has been described as “administrative” rather a “patient-care” position. The VA recommended that Hale be fired, a recommendation that the Office of Special Counsel is fighting.
Hale’s allegations led to an investigation that revealed Montana’s VA dental system had communication gaps that caused long delays and posed safety risks for patients. In one instance, a patient with a mouth lesion waited 11 weeks for a consultation before a biopsy was requested. The Montana VA chief of Dental Services has stepped down from his position following the investigation. The systemic problems raised by Hale occurred due to a lack of an electronic filing system. Dentists were required to fill out and fax paper forms, causing massive delays in communication. Denied consultations never even made it into a computer system, never leaving a record.
The Billings office was shut down this January, causing patients to travel hundreds of miles for routine dental work. Hale’s removal was recommended in July, after she was accused of misconduct involving disrespectful language. The investigation into her misconduct began two weeks after she was identified as a whistleblower, the OSC is calling the investigation retaliatory. The OSC has since obtained a stay of the firing, that is set to expire November 19th.
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