Dr. David Houlihan was known as the “Candy Man” at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah, Wisconsin. But that nickname for the hospital’s chief of staff had nothing to do with Halloween treats. Houlihan was known among local veterans as the man to go to if you wanted opiates and other drugs.
Reveal uncovered Houlihan’s practices and the skyrocketing narcotics prescription rates under his tenure in an investigation published last January, which also noted that the government had investigated, and dismissed, the problem.
In late breaking news today, Wisconsin media noted that Houlihan — put on leave in the wake of Reveal’s investigation — is being fired, effective Nov. 9.
A statement from the VA to lawmakers said his dismissal followed the VA’s probe of the psychiatrist’s clinical practice and his “administrative interactions with subordinates and alleged retaliatory behavior.”
A culture of fear permeated the hospital, staff told Reveal. They said Houlihan regularly threatened those who disagreed with him and followed through with sometimes public humiliation, even demotions. In a June 2013 email, Houlihan took on a physician assistant who had told two veterans he planned to cut back on their narcotics.
“I understand you may have issues with controlled medications. That is your issue,” Houlihan wrote. “I take personal issue with you changing meds on my Veterans.”
“I expect this practice to stop immediately,” he added.
As of Nov. 9, it is instead Houlihan’s practice in Tomah that will have stopped.
Amy Pyle is editor in chief at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, guiding a team of editors, reporters and producers who produce unique in-depth national stories for the web, radio and video. Her primary goals are exposing wrongdoing and holding those responsible accountable, and increasing diversity in the ranks of investigative reporters. In the past year, CIR has established a fellowship program for aspiring investigative journalists of color and another for women filmmakers. Amy has worked at CIR since 2012, previously serving as a senior editor and managing editor. Rehab Racket, a collaboration with CNN that she managed on fraud in government-funded drug and alcohol rehabilitation, won the top broadcast award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. The Reveal radio version of an investigation she oversaw on an epidemic of opiate prescriptions at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs won a George Foster Peabody Award. Previously, as assistant managing editor for investigations at The Sacramento Bee, she managed “Chief's Disease,” a story about pension spiking at the California Highway Patrol, which won George Polk Award. Amy worked as a reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times for more than a decade where, as assistant city editor, she directed coverage from the parking lot of the Times’ quake-damaged San Fernando Valley office in the early morning hours after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That work earned the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting. Amy has a bachelor’s degree in French from Mills College and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.
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