The Atlanta VA Medical Center on Friday announced Annette P. Walker as the new director to lead the health system that serves more than 102,000 veterans in the region.
Walker, who began her VA career as a staff nurse 22 years ago, takes over a facility that is still trying to recover from a rash of veteran suicides that caused scandal in 2013. This year, the medical center, located on Clairmont Road near Decatur, had to resort to installing anti-climbing fencing on its parking decks to prevent veterans from jumping.
Walker, who has held a variety of administrative positions in VA, most recently served as associate director of the VA hospital in Detroit. She replaces Leslie Wiggins, who in December was promoted to oversee the VA’s network of health facilities across the southeast. She will assume her post in Atlanta on Sept. 4.
The Atlanta VA — one of the fastest growing facilities in the country — will be Walker’s first turn as a VA hospital director. Earlier this year, she spent four months as interim director at a VA hospital in Chicago.
“Ms. Walker has a proven track record as a leader in veteran health care,” Wiggins said in a statement.
Walker assumes control of a facility with a budget of over $700 million and more than 4,700 employees.
Despite promises by VA to be more transparent, the Atlanta VA has often fallen short. Just last month, the facility was criticized for failing to be fully open about a ventilation problem in its operating room and other parts of the facility that had made more than 50 workers sick.
Bob Teets, a veteran who serves on the Atlanta VA director’s advisory council, was on the committee that interviewed Walker and two other candidates in June. He said some people on the committee loved her, but he had concerns about how open she would be with veterans and her willingness to take veteran input.
Teets said Walker cut him off during the interview process before he could ask his question. Teets voiced his concerns about Walker in June in an email letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald and Dr. David Shulkin, the under secretary over the VA’s health care system. Teets also posted his concerns on the Atlanta VA Medical Center Improvement Group Facebook page.
“I think she’s coming and she’s going to run the hospital her way,” Teets said. “My impression was she was very guarded.”
Walker, who has been in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for 24 years, is a veteran of the First Gulf War.