Atlanta VA Medical Center gets new director

A new director will take the reins of the Atlanta VA Medical Center next week amid recent reports of the deaths of three veterans linked to widespread mismanagement in the hospital’s mental health unit.

Leslie Wiggins, who has worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs since 1993, will take over as head of the 405-bed hospital in Decatur, a VA spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. Wiggins has served as the department’s deputy assistant secretary for labor management relations since February 2010, according to the VA’s website.

An interim director has been in charge of the troubled facility since December when former director James A. Clark retired.

Last month, two audits by the VA’s Inspector General showed that many of the 4,000 veterans referred by the hospital to outside mental health facilities “fell through the cracks.” In one case, a suicidal patient died of an overdose of drugs given to him by another patient.

The reports sparked outrage from Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the head of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Miller and four Georgia congressmen toured the facility last week in response to the findings. Miller said his confidence in the hospital’s leaders was shattered after learning of the death of a fourth veteran who committed suicide inside a hospital bathroom, which officials failed to reveal during his visit.

A separate confidential report by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits health care providers nationwide, showed problems in other areas of the hospital, including fire safety concerns and powerful prescription medications left unsecured.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, called last week for the resignations of the hospital’s top leaders and for military leaders in Washington and the White House to step in. Wiggins’ taking over as director was a move already in the works and not in response to the recent audits, a VA spokeswoman said.

“I look forward to meeting with Leslie Wiggins to hear about her plan to right the ship at the Atlanta (VA) Medical Center,” Scott said in a statement. “We need a full-time, committed leader to review these recent deaths and other critical errors.