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VA Southeast Network (VISN7)


VISN 7 CMO retires after 33 years of service

VISN 7 Chief Medical Officer retires after 33 years of service

Dr. Maureen McCarthy, VA Southeast Network (VISN 7) Chief Medical Officer, celebrates 33 years of VA service.

By James Branch, Public Affairs Specialist
Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Servant Leadership

Amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Maureen McCarthy stepped into a pivotal role, heeding the call to serve as special advisor to the VA Southeast Network Director, focusing on clinical oversight, compliance, and enhancing care quality. Leaving her position as Chief of Staff at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, she assumed the role of Chief Medical Officer for the VA Southeast Network, embracing a new chapter in her service to Veterans.

Upon her arrival at the network, Dr. McCarthy was deeply impressed by the unwavering dedication of the VISN 7 network office and its frontline staff, who valiantly combated the pandemic's relentless challenges. Wasting no time, she swiftly implemented innovative strategies to enhance patient care and fortify staff resilience.

“Dr. McCarthy’s steadfast dedication has served as a beacon of inspiration for our entire team,” remarked Dr. David Walker, VA Southeast Network Director, praising Dr. McCarthy’s impactful tenure, including her role as VISN 7 Interim Network Director in 2021. “Through her blend of expertise and compassion, she has brought solace to countless Veterans and their families, reaffirming the VA's enduring commitment to those who have bravely served their country.”

Even as the pandemic's grip began to loosen, Dr. McCarthy remained steadfast in her mission, continuing to build a skilled team of Integrated Community Care leads and subject matter experts across VISN 7. As she begins the next phase of her life journey, her legacy of mentorship continues, shaping the next generation of chiefs of staff, clinical leaders, and participants in VA’s Health Care Leadership Development program.

Early career

Dr. McCarthy began her career as a psychiatrist at the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center where she became site director for the education of medical students and residents. She researched novel treatments for schizophrenia and cocaine dependence, participating in early studies focused on buprenorphine, now a life-saving medicine for those suffering with and recovering from addiction.

“My father, a World War II Veteran, died in the loving arms of a VA palliative care unit,” said McCarthy. “He suffered from blindness and schizophrenia. I saw him in so many patients I was honored to treat.”

After a six-year tenure in Washington D.C., Dr. McCarthy joined the Salem VA Medical Center in Virginia, where she would serve for 15 years. She provided inpatient psychiatric care to Veterans, along with medical students and residents from the University of Virginia. She was elected to the university’s Academy of Distinguished Educators. 

With a background as a secondary school teacher prior to medical school, Dr. McCarthy focused on curriculum development and enhancing student experiences. She became Salem’s Associate Chief of Staff for Education, later advancing to Acting Chief of Staff, then Chief of Staff. She continued to provide care to mental health patients and was dubbed a “clozapine queen” for building access to the medication to treat Veterans with severe schizophrenia disorders.

“Don’t be afraid to stretch,” says McCarthy, as she provides words of wisdom to VA employees looking for career longevity. “Rely on skills and experiences you already have to build new opportunities.”

In 2012, she took on the role as Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer. After serving as acting chief, she was selected Chief of Patient Care Services.

A higher calling

During the Phoenix VA Medical Center’s highly publicized complications with wait times and scheduling processes, Dr. McCarthy, with her family’s blessing, answered another call to service, relocating to Phoenix, Arizona.

In 2016, she was appointed Phoenix VA Chief of Staff, describing it as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

“When I arrived at the Phoenix VA, I realized I needed to play an important role in healing the trauma our Veterans, staff, leaders, and community partners had experienced,” said McCarthy.

Dr. McCarthy brought her collaborative spirit to Veterans’ meetings. She personally returned their phone calls and even formed what came to be called an “angry patients’ clinic” where she met with Veterans and addressed their concerns. She worked with multiple organizations to establish what is now called Arizona’s “Be Connected” program, which continues to grow.

As the Phoenix VA crisis evolved, Dr. McCarthy realized that helping VA employees to heal, would ultimately improve the overall Veteran experience.

“Some employees reported being spat at outside gas stations when wearing their VA I.D.’s,” she said. Restoring pride, recognizing efforts to build our employees up, and working on the internal culture were all key.”

After a challenging Joint Commission Survey, Dr. McCarthy used High Reliability Organization (HRO) principles to address the facility’s challenges. Employees regained a sense of purpose in serving a cause much greater than themselves. 

“Perhaps the most significant healing came when employees walked in the Phoenix Veteran’s Day parade and were applauded along the parade route,” said McCarthy. “That tradition still continues.”

Dr. McCarthy departed Phoenix for Atlanta in 2020. She received recognition and plaques from the Unified Arizona Veterans, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Vietnam Veterans of America, as well as recognition from the University of Arizona for her leadership in education and research.

Bloom where you are planted

As Dr. McCarthy reflects on her journey, she states that if she could, she would go back and tell 15-year-old [Maureen] to always seize the moment.

“Never wait for others to suggest what you could do,” she said. “Don’t get too narrow in directions too quickly. In other words, don’t look for external advocates to tell you your path.”

“Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki often said, ‘Prepare hard, fight easy,’” she added. “This is good advice for having a variety of career paths open to you. And ‘Bloom where you are planted.’”

She advises employees who wish to make VA a career to think about where they would like to be in ten years and learn what they should do to get there, like training, formal education, and VA leadership programs.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, particularly leaders, for career advice,” said McCarthy. “It will make them feel good you asked and will help you gain another possible advocate. Also, don’t forget to include your family in these discussions, as you will need support outside of work, and you will need cheerleaders at home.”

When asked about her immediate plans after retirement, Dr. McCarthy says travel and baking are first on the list.

“I will drive with my husband Bill and my dog Ponto back to Phoenix, where we still have our home,” she said. “We run a little ‘Mom and Pop’ business baking Irish soda bread in our own kitchen. I will bake about 36 loaves per day and prepare for the St. Patrick’s Day fair. This is a busy season for us.”

Though retired, her community service will not end.

“After reading a few books and catching up on some sleep, I hope to provide some psychiatric care and work on some church projects focused on food insecurity and community projects focused on suicide prevention,” said Mccarthy. “I also hope to start swimming regularly again.”

The VISN 7 staff congratulate Dr. McCarthy and wishes her Godspeed and all the best for a fulfilling retirement.

“Dr. McCarthy’s retirement marks an end of an era filled with devotion, passion, and unwavering commitment to making VA a better place to work and serve,” said Walker. “Her servant leadership, integrity and tireless efforts have left an indelible mark, encouraging all of us who have had the privilege of working beside her. We thank her for her invaluable contributions. She will be deeply missed.”


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