The article, titled "A Pattern of Problems at a Hospital for Veterans" details problems exposed by five whistleblowers. Out of those five, according to the letter, the first three troubles have been investigated and addressed. The latter two remain under investigation, according to Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. This is a summation sent to the media:
• First, in 2009, in response to a whistleblower disclosure to OSC, the VA confirmed that “dirty, rust-stained instruments,” and other unsterilized medical equipment, were sent to VAMC clinics and operating rooms in violation of VA policy. The VA outlined a series of steps to correct longstanding problems within the VAMC Sterile Processing Department.
• Second, in 2011, a whistleblower alleged that employees continued to follow incorrect procedures in the Sterile Processing Department, placing the safety of employees and patients at risk. The VA investigated and did not substantiate the allegations. However, OSC determined that the VA’s findings were unreasonable, in part because they were made without interviewing the whistleblower, who disputed much of the VA’s response.
• Third, in 2011, a whistleblower disclosed that Jackson VAMC public affairs employees were told to issue false statements that mischaracterized the findings in the 2009 case involving unsterilized medical equipment. A VA investigation confirmed that the VAMC made inaccurate statements to the public and Congress. However, the VA concluded that the inaccurate statements were not intentional because VAMC management was never informed by the VA that violations were found in 2009. OSC determined that the VA’s findings were unreasonable, and the VA should have informed the VAMC about violations of agency policy.
• Fourth, in 2012, a whistleblower alleged that chronic understaffing in the Primary Care Unit threatens patient safety. Specifically, the physician alleged that narcotics are prescribed to veterans by nurse practitioners who are not legally permitted to do so. Physicians are pressured to prescribe narcotics to veterans they have not seen. Veterans are routinely scheduled for appointment times when no physician is on duty, leaving patients to arrive at unstaffed clinics, only to be turned away. Nurse practitioners operate in the facility in violation of VA rules and state licensing requirements. And, inadequate physician staffing levels result in numerous fraudulently completed Medicare Home Health Certifications. On February 28, 2013, OSC referred this case to the VA Secretary for an investigation, which is pending.
• Fifth, in 2013, a whistleblower alleged that a VAMC radiologist failed to properly read thousands of radiology images, leading to missed diagnoses of serious, and in some cases, fatal illnesses. Court documents demonstrate that VAMC management was aware of this but did not take corrective action, including notifying the affected patients. On March 5, 2013, OSC referred this case to the VA Secretary for an investigation, which is pending.
In the fourth allegation, the former director for patient care services, Dorothy Taylor, is accused of fraudulently obtaining hydrocodone. Her case is still under investigation.
The article states that the Jackson facility used to be considered one of the best of the nation's 150 veterans hospitals, but after the first whistleblower came forward in 2009 that reputation diminished.
In a Tuesday letter senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker called for immediate action to correct the rest of the problems at the VA.
“I am deeply troubled by the accusations made about care and operations at the VA Medical Center in Jackson. In light of some of the concerns we’ve heard from Mississippians, it has become clear that there have been troublesome practices there. The bottom line is that whatever problems existed, or still exist, they need to be resolved so that veterans can have confidence in their health care system and receive the best care possible,” Cochran said.
“Many constituents have contacted me with concerns about the level of care at the VA facility in Jackson,” said Wicker. “For two years, I have encouraged VA executives in Washington take corrective action in Jackson. It is long past time for a thorough investigation into the lack of proper care. Our veterans deserve the best medical services available, and I intend to use every resource necessary to see that these problems are corrected.”
Cong. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has also expressed his displeasure with the level of care and has said he will do what he can to ensure improvement.