Thursday, April 4, 2013
More problems at the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson came to light at a town hall-style meeting Wednesday. Department of Veterans Affairs officials organized the meeting in response to allegations that the hospital failed to sterilize equipment and practiced generally poor management.
The whistleblower complaints prompted the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to write the White House about its concerns. "Collectively, these disclosures raise questions about the ability of this facility to care for the veterans it services," Special Counsel Carolyn N. Lerner wrote in the letter.
In all, five workers at Jackson's VA hospital contacted the special counsel. Specifically, the whistleblowers said the hospital fails to properly clean and sterilize such medical equipment as bone cutters, scalpels and nail clippers. Employees also said drugs are prescribed by nurse practitioners who are not legally permitted to do so and that some nurse practitioners lack proper state and federal licenses. Whistleblowers complained that "chronic understaffing" results in inadequate care as well.
Dr. Amy Smith, who oversees the nurse practitioners at the hospital, said Mississippi did not offer nurse-practitioner licenses until 2009, so some of the practitioners earned their licenses in other states. When Mississippi changed its requirements, the VA declined to require the practitioners to obtain Mississippi licenses, she said.
These issues came into sharp focus when about 300 veterans gathered at the War Memorial yesterday afternoon. The hour-long meeting quickly got out of hand when audience members began interrupting VA official whom veterans accused of evading questions.
"The Blue Clinic is the pits; it's garbage," blurted one frustrated man, referring to the name of the VA's primary-care facility, which elicited applause from his fellow veterans.
Samuel Burks, an Army veteran, interrupted VA officials with what he called a matter of life and death. Burks, 48, went to the hospital for abdominal pains, which he says are related to hypertension caused by his service in 2008.
While in the hospital, Burks says he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed for 24 hours. When doctors discharged him, his paperwork did not reflect the fact that he had a stroke and has been trying to have his records amended ever since.
"If I have another stroke what then?" Burks, who lives in Raleigh, rhetorically asked the Jackson Free Press after the meeting. "Am I on the right medication for a stroke?"
After the meeting, VA officials swarmed Burks and others who raised a stink to resolve their issues.
Burks said that the U.S. trained him to fight, and the VA shouldn't expect him to back down.
"I am going to fight every step," he said.