Veteran died as nurse’s aide played video games instead of checking on him, report says
By SAMANTHA SCHMIDT | The Washington Post | Published: October 19, 2017
The day after Bill Nutter was found dead in his bed at the Bedford VA Medical Center in 2016, a staff member from the Massachusetts hospital told his wife that his heart had stopped and there was nothing more they could have done.
But later, his wife, Carol Nutter, learned a bit more about what happened from a doctor, who said the hospital fell short in caring for her husband, she told the Boston Globe.
It turns out that the nurse's aide responsible for monitoring him overnight didn't check on Bill Nutter on the night he died. Instead, she was playing video games on her computer, the Globe reported, citing a source with firsthand knowledge.
"And when a nurse discovered Nutter dead the next morning, the hospital's internal report shows she announced it to her boss with a crude gesture signifying a slit throat," the Globe's Andrea Estes wrote in Tuesday's story.
The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general has launched a criminal investigation with the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI to identify how the system may have failed Nutter, the Globe reported.
Nutter, a retired police detective, had served as a door gunner during the Vietnam War. While serving his country, he was exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, which doctors said led to a series of health problems, the Globe reported. His diabetes had led to the amputation of both of his legs. He also suffered from a serious heart condition that could send him into cardiac arrest at any moment, the Globe reported.
Immediately after Nutter's death, Bedford VA Medical Center reassigned Patricia Waible — the aide who reportedly failed to check on him — to a cafeteria job. The nurse who made the "cut-throat" gesture was still on her probation period, and was terminated, the Globe reported.
Waible initially insisted — and signed paperwork — claiming she had checked on Nutter as required. She eventually admitted the truth after she learned that hospital cameras showed her never leaving her computer during her shift, the Globe reported.
It was only until after the Globe contacted Veterans Affairs last month that the agency suspended Waible with pay. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's office plans to have her permanently removed, the Globe reported.
Nutter's family did not learn the full details of his death until the Boston Globe began investigating. Now they are reportedly considering taking legal action against the agency.
The Globe also reported that several whistleblower employees and families of veterans have brought forth a slew of complaints about the Bedford VA Medical Center: how patients quickly deteriorate after being admitted, how some veterans in long-term care are left in soiled clothes or without food for hours, how buildings are infested with asbestos.
A spokesman for Shulkin said in a statement to the Globe that the secretary has "made clear that VA will hold employees accountable when the facts demonstrate that they have failed to live up to the high standards taxpayers expect from us."
The Globe's report has stirred outrage among Massachusetts politicians in the last two days.
"This is a disgrace," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted, adding that she will be demanding answers and accountability from the department. "Our veterans deserve better."
"This is unbelievable," tweeted Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., "and yet not entirely so unbelievable given some of the things I've seen myself at the VA."
A spokesman for Moulton told the Boston Herald he planned to have a phone conversation with Shulkin on Wednesday to discuss Nutter's death.
"That any veteran is subject to the treatment described today is unconscionable," Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said in a statement to the Herald, "and we must use every available resource to not only get to the bottom of what happened at the Bedford VA, but also to make sure it never happens again."
Brigitte Darton, Nutter's daughter, questioned why the hospital took so long to remove the nurse's aide at fault, the Globe reported. She wondered why the family had to learn the full story about what happened through a reporter.
"I hold the VA responsible for all of this. They're responsible for their employees," Darton told the Globe. "How many other people did this lady cause issues with?"