On the 5th of August 2019, a VA-OIG report was delivered, but I was unable to comment due to the tragic incident documented in that VA-OIG report. A veteran died, and while this of itself is troubling, the tragedy was how that veteran died. Thus, the delay in writing about this veteran’s death and the VA-OIG report.
For the record, I worked at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center from 2018-2019. From my first day to my last, I asked for, begged, pleaded, and reported that a lack of written procedures opens the VA to avoidable risks. I was instructed several times by employees who had a minimum of five years in the administration of the hospital, who led the hospital mainly after hours, that writing anything down means responsibility. But, responsibility is avoided at all costs by the leadership who are keen to keep from losing their power and job if something went wrong. I countered that written procedures, where training on those procedures is documented, means that responsibility and accountability do not, automatically, result in lost employment, all to no avail. Thus, the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque operates by gentlemen’s agreements, verbal directives, gossip, and personal opinion.
How is this accountable leadership? What will it take to change this culture of irresponsibility?
The VA-OIG report documents that a nurse inappropriately labeled the patient as dead and did not commence resuscitation efforts. Documentation was not completed, appropriate processes and procedures were not followed, and proper training was not conducted. The crash cart, for a Code Blue emergency, was unlocked and deficient. The leadership teams and committees did not correctly follow procedures and review the incident. Reprehensible, detestable, and criminal are just some of the adjectives I have been using on this incident; but, the VA-OIG made nine recommendations. Why does this not comfort me, comfort the family who lost a loved one, or suggests to America the problem will not be repeated?
I know the written procedure problem exists in the Phoenix Arizona VA Medical Center, the Cheyenne Wyoming VA Medical Center, and the Albuquerque New Mexico VA Medical Centers as I have been a patient of all three. From the VA-OIG report, I must presume this problem is VA-Medical Center-wide, and I have to ask, why? The military believes in writing everything down, redundancies, and accountability for records and documentation are taught from day one. How is the VA able to operate without documentation, written processes, and documented procedures?
A running theme in the VA-OIG reports delivered since I began tracking VA-OIG reports in 2015, continues to be that documents are not properly completed, not maintained correctly, not audited timely and appropriately, or missing entirely. Missing written procedures detailing how to perform tasks, and leadership were not forthcoming with the written procedures and policies needed to complete the tasks appropriately assigned. A hospital in the private sector with these problems would be inundated with malpractice lawsuits, Federal inquiries, and threatened with closure; yet, the VA can operate without document controls, written processes and procedures, and escape any consequences, why?
The VA-OIG report detailing the death of a veteran in a behavioral health unit is not the first, nor will it be the last; but it should be! This veteran’s death should be a clarion call for every hospital director in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, to demand an immediate correction, that leads to written procedures, clearly defined directions, and training in following those procedures — then monitoring those procedures for updates and shelf-life. This veteran’s death doesn’t even raise the eyebrows or curiosity of the lowest congressional staffer, and that is shameful!
Senators and Congressional Representatives, what are you doing to support Secretary Wilkie and his team in demanding answers and implementing corrective action? Hospital directors, what are you doing to fix this abhorrent behavior in your hospitals? Hospital directors, what are your directors, supervisors, and leaders doing to improve performance and follow Secretary Wilkie’s leadership to enhance the VA? There is no excuse for another dead veteran at the hands of the providers and nursing staff in the VA Health Administration.
America, please join me in mourning another veteran’s passing.
This veteran did not have to die!
© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.