Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a sharply critical letter Thursday to the nation’s secretary of veterans affairs, demanding new, high-level oversight of the agency’s Bedford medical center, which has been the subject of repeated complaints of abuse and neglect.
Warren called on the VA to increase “senior level” monitoring of the facility, release agency inspection reports, and give federal lawmakers more oversight.
“When it comes to our veterans, more of the same old substandard care is unacceptable,” Warren wrote to the recently appointed VA secretary, Robert Wilkie.
Warren’s letter came days after a Boston Globe/USA Today report detailed questionable care at the Bedford VA’s nursing home, one of the federal agency’s worst-rated facilities among 133 nationwide.
The report described how a nurse’s aide was allowed to resign after throwing an elderly dementia patient into bed, while another aide, who reported the misconduct, was fired. It followed a series of other incidents at the facility, which was scored one star out of five by the VA itself, based on high rates of bedsores, medication, and decline in veterans’ health.
Warren wrote she was “growing sick and tired of hearing and reading heart-wrenching story after heart-wrenching story about veterans treated as if their sacrifices for our country do not matter.” She said she had “serious questions about whether the new leadership at this facility is resulting in significantly improved care or is simply producing more of the same.”
Republican State Representative Geoff Diehl, who faces off against Warren in November’s election, said he has “a comprehensive plan to help veterans and improve their access to quality health care.”
“While I agree with her concern about the serious problems at the Bedford VA, Elizabeth Warren has failed to make veterans and their care a priority,” Diehl said in a statement.
VA spokeswoman Maureen Heard said in a statement that Bedford is “constantly striving to improve the quality of its health care.”
“While the Bedford VA (nursing home) has a one star rating, this reflects the exceptionally difficult case-mix the facility serves,” she said. Heard noted that the agency did not substantiate allegations that an aide threw an elderly dementia patient into bed.
On Wednesday, one day after the Globe/USA Today report, the new leader of the Bedford VA, Joan Clifford, sent an e-mail to the staff.
“I am proud of the work we have done and will continue to do in addressing improvement opportunities and will work with all of you to regain the trust of our veterans,” she wrote.
“Every negative story erodes the trust our veterans deserve and reminds us that we have a lot of work to do. I know that the majority of our staff are caring, dedicated individuals committed to our mission.”
The Bedford hospital has been beset by allegations of neglect and misconduct. The family of Charles Amidon, a highly decorated, 84-year-old lieutenant colonel, said he was slapped and bruised, and ignored for hours at a time. He contracted scabies that was undiagnosed for five months, his family said.
Employees have told the Globe drug abuse is common at the facility. Earlier this year, a 41-year-old Boston man was indicted for allegedly selling crack to a resident in the medical center.
In her letter, Warren also demanded an update into the investigation of the death of William Nutter, a Vietnam vet, who died in his bed in July 2016. The nurse’s aide who was supposed to check on him hourly admitted she was playing video games on her computer.
Warren had requested information in October 2017 from former VA secretary David Shulkin, who declined to comment because the investigation was ongoing.
“Ten months have passed since then without any substantive update on this matter,” Warren wrote Thursday.
The VA’s inspector general, as well as federal prosecutors in Boston, launched probes into Nutter’s death.
It‘s unclear what, if anything, resulted from these investigations. The US attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Andrea Estes can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.