Veterans Affairs put a new acting director in place at its medical center in Washington, D.C., Thursday following Wednesday’s report that said patients are unnecessarily at risk there, but veterans organizations remain concerned.
The VA Office of the Inspector General reported unsanitary conditions, lack of attention to safety recalls, and a failure to ensure availability of supplies and equipment when needed.
“As soon as this matter was brought to our attention by the inspector general, we took decisive action to protect veterans here at the center,” Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said.
Veterans Affairs reassigned medical center Director Brian Hawkins Wednesday and named Dr. Charles Faselis temporary acting director. Veterans Affairs announced Thursday Col. Lawrence Connell would serve as acting director instead of Faselis.
"After further consideration, it was determined that naming an acting director from outside the facility would allow leadership to concentrate on addressing the many challenges identified in the OIG report, without compromising the ongoing internal review," Veterans Affairs said in an updated press release.
Hawkins received executive bonuses totaling at least $24,000 since 2011 and received a raise last year bringing his salary to $179,000.
At the American Legion, which represents more than 2 million American veterans, Executive Director Verna Jones said the inspector general report is the latest shock to a troubled system and care delays.
“Anything that can provide a detriment to the veteran is a concern for us,” she said.
Veterans are calling the American Legion asking if they are OK.
“Are they at risk for diseases – HIV, hepatitis, those kinds of things,” Jones said.
“From my knowledge of what the inspector general told me yesterday and the knowledge from our team that has been here all day, we are not aware of any veterans that have experience harm,” Shulkin said.
Eighteen of the medical center's 25 sterile storage areas were found to be dirty, according to the report. In five storage areas, the clean equipment and supplies were mixed with the dirty. Seventeen areas lacked ways to monitor pressure, temperature and humidity.
The medical center lacked an effective inventory system, and $150 million in equipment and supplies were not inventoried in the past year. Meanwhile, the lease on a large warehouse of non-inventoried items expires at the end of the month with no plan to relocate the contents and staffing constraints could make it difficult to address the situation.
Also, no effective system was in place to ensure recalled supplies and equipment were not used on patients, according to the report.
The medical center also had 194 patient safety reports based on unavailable equipment or supplies since Jan. 1, 2014, according to the report.
The Office of the Inspector General inspected the medical center after an anonymous complaint about the conditions.