Senators want answers on 'patient neglect' at Brockton VA


By MARC LAROCQUE | The Enterprise | Published: November 20, 2018

BROCKTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) – The two U.S. Senators from Massachusetts are seeking answers surrounding a "disturbing report" of sleeping nurses and patient neglect at a government-run nursing home serving military veterans in Brockton.

In a joint letter to secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked for additional information about findings from an internal investigation that was prompted by a whistle-blowing nurse at the Brockton Campus of the VA Boston Healthcare System, who shared alarming observations about substandard care with the federal Office of the Special Counsel. That internal investigation, conducted by the VA's Office of Medical Inspector, found that two nurses were sleeping on-the-job during an inspection earlier this year.

The joint letter notes that the findings of substandard care and staff misconduct at the Brockton VA comes after a previous internal report this year rated the Brockton VA as a one-star facility for nursing home quality, based on high rates of patients reporting that they experience pain and bed sores. Of the 133 VA nursing homes around the country, the Brockton VA was one of 58 around the country to receive one out of five stars for nursing home quality.

"The continued care lapses at VA facilities raise questions about whether concrete, lasting measures are being implemented to prevent misconduct from occurring again – or whether certain VA facilities are unable to institute changes necessary to provide our veterans with care befitting their service to the country," wrote Warren and Markey in the Nov. 16 joint letter. "This latest report of patient neglect at the Brockton VA is part of a troubling pattern of misconduct at VA facilities in Massachusetts and across the country, and underscores the need for rapid and lasting improvements in quality of care. We cannot be satisfied until every veteran receives the services they need and deserve."

Warren and Markey point out in their letter that the nurse who acted as a whistle-blower resigned from her job, citing a "retaliatory environment" created at the Brockton nursing home, which is a 112-bed facility on the expansive Brockton VA campus on Belmont Street right off of Route 24.

Warren and Markey also asked why they weren't previously informed by VA about its findings from the internal investigation into substandard care at the Brockton VA nursing home. The findings from the VA's Office of Medical Inspector report on the Brockton VA nursing home were first reported last week by the Boston Globe.

"For too long, we have learned of the mistreatment of our veterans – at Bedford and at Brockton – through the media instead of through VA leadership," the senators wrote.

Warren and Markey posed six questions about the Brockton VA nursing home, seeking information on what VA has done to remedy the problems at the Brockton VA, details about disciplinary action doled out against senior managers in the past 12 months, survey results, policies regarding preservation of records, and information on what happened with the two sleeping nurses.

A spokesperson for the Brockton VA campus said the federal agency will be responding to the questions.

"VA appreciates the senators' concerns and will respond to them directly," said Pallas Wahl, a VA Boston Healthcare System spokesperson, in an email to The Enterprise on Monday.

Wahl provided some information about the sleeping nurses, stating that they no longer work for the VA Boston Healthcare System. Wahl also issued a response about the one-star ranking for overall nursing home quality, stating that it is "not an accurate reflection of the quality of care delivered to our patients." One reason for that is the Brockton VA nursing home has a much higher percentage of spinal cord injury patients than a typical nursing home, thus increasing the instances of pain experienced by patients there.

Wahl's email also pointed out that the Office of Medical Inspector found no evidence of veterans being harmed or neglected at the Brockton VA nursing home, otherwise known as a community living center.

"VA is continuously striving to improve all of its health care facilities. The same holds true with our community living cent," according to the VA spokesperson's email.

©2018 The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.
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