US Senator Edward Markey Tuesday joined the chorus of elected officials calling on the Veterans Affairs secretary to speed up the investigation into the case of a Vietnam veteran who died at the Bedford VA while a nurse’s aide was allegedly playing games on her computer.
“Unsatisfactory care and unsafe conditions are an inexcusable transgression against our veterans,” Markey wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin.
Markey asked Shulkin to “rectify” the systemic problems at Bedford and other VA facilities around the country to ensure that health care workers are adequately trained and supervised.
Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren demanded Shulkin send a special team to Bedford to investigate the death of William Nutter, a Vietnam vet and retired Concord police detective, who died in July 2016.
A Globe Spotlight Team report about the circumstances surrounding Nutter’s death sparked widespread outrage and calls for expedited investigations. The story revealed that although Nutter, 68, had a heart condition that required hourly monitoring, the nurse’s aide assigned to check on him never did. A nurse coming to work on the day shift found him unresponsive in his bed.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General, the FBI, and the US attorney’s office in Boston are conducting a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, a team from the VA’s newly created Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection arrived at the Bedford VA Tuesday to meet with employees who want to discuss patient care or any other issues. The team is expected to be at the facility through Wednesday.
Shulkin’s spokesman Curtis Cashour said that Bedford VA employees will have the opportunity to meet with officials from the accountability office “confidentially and in private both on and off campus.”
But several employees told The Boston Globe they will forgo the opportunity because the rooms set aside for the interviews are so close to their bosses’ offices they are afraid they will be exposed as whistle-blowers. Employees have also been informed they can complete “optional employee disclosure forms” and return them online.
Last week, three members of the state’s congressional delegation — Seth Moulton, Niki Tsongas, and Katherine Clark — asked the House Veterans Affairs Committee to hold a hearing at the Bedford VA to look at Nutter’s death and broader issues of patient care at the suburban facility, which has been granted five stars by the Veterans Affairs Administration.
Shulkin has said he will visit Bedford to meet with employees, leaders, elected officials, and whistle-blowers, a visit tentatively scheduled for Nov. 4.
He also said he would seek the termination of the nurse’s aide, who was kept on the payroll — though not involved with patient care — for a year after Nutter’s death.
The Bedford VA now faces a growing number of questions about its quality of care. Family members have come forward to say they have seen veterans deteriorate within months of being admitted to the facility. One woman said her father quickly went downhill and died four months after being admitted. Whistle-blowers and others say that veterans living in long-term care buildings sometimes go without food for hours or are left in soiled clothes.
Several relatives said their loved one’s belongings, including cherished keepsakes, were stolen or lost.
In written responses to some whistle-blower complaints and other outside reviews, the Bedford VA leaders acknowledged some problems, but said they are working to improve conditions where improvement is warranted.
In his letter, Markey asked Shulkin to answer five questions by Nov. 17, among them: “What is the role of the national VA in ensuring adequate training and supervision standards for health care workers in individual hospitals?” and “Please describe the programs you have initiated to help improve the quality of care provided to veterans throughout the VA system, specifically citing any efforts to ensure uniform training standards and enforcement of these standards across the country.”
Cashour, Shulkin’s spokesman, said: “We appreciate the senator’s concerns and will respond to him directly.”
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