Memphis VA retaliates against Veteran who exposed neglect

Despite a CDN expose on poor care at the Memphis VA, the neglect of wounded warriors - quad and paraplegics continues


MEMPHIS, Aug. 28, 2015 – The patient who leaked shocking videos showing paralyzed veterans left unattended at the Memphis VA says the only change since the video is that the hospital is now retaliating against him.

Last week, CDN broke  the news that paraplegic and quadriplegic veterans at the Memphis VA are left alone while nurses attend staff meetings.

The story was first released on CDN, and then was picked up by the Fox News Channel, featured on Fox & Friends as well as on its website, sparking national outrage about lack of care at the VA.

Search the plight of vets at the Memphis Veterans Administration hospital

Instead of rectifying a bad situation, hospital staff appears to have taken punitive action against the source of the video. Staff placed the patient, whose identity CDN is protecting for safety concerns, on bed rest after they speculated he could be responsible for the video.

On bed rest, he is not allowed to move from his bed. “Before the videos, I was able to get up for an hour or so,” he told CDN. “I don’t understand why I can’t get up for an hour. It (moving around) helped with my mental health and with my overall outlook, I was able to go outside and get fresh air.”

The source noted, however, that there has been no change in terms of leaving patients unattended during staff meetings, which take place three times a day. “So far as I know it’s still the same thing. I’m in a room where I can actually see the front desk from my room.”

Willie Logan, the Memphis VA’s press representative, told CDN in its last story that a nurse was always at the nurse’s station and patients only needed to push a button to reach a nurse.

The source disagrees. He noted, “It’s apparent from the video that there is not somebody at the nurse’s station at all times. The room where they have that meeting is not a patient’s room so I’m not sure if they can hear the call.”

On the article, several commenters pointed out that a quadriplegic, someone paralyzed from the neck down, isn’t able to push a button.

A follow-up email to Logan on this issue was left unreturned, but the patient said shortly after the email was sent, several nursing managers who had never been in the ward before were working in the ward. “I’ve seen people in here I’ve never seen before,” he said. “They’re flipping beds and cleaning under mattresses and everything.”

Following the exposure, Paralyzed Veterans of America released a statement condemning the deplorable conditions. “This video speaks to a need that our organization has stressed to VA leaders, Congress and the public for quite some time: VA needs more nurses in specialized care services like spinal cord injury centers.”

The patient said his current care is indicative of the quality of care at the Memphis VA for years. “The treatment was so bad that I made up my mind not to come back,” he said of his experience four years ago.

Because of the severity of the injury, he said he was forced to get treatment at the Memphis VA because he didn’t have proper insurance for treatment outside the VA system.

Our veterans deserve better

Sean Higgins, the whistleblower who brought these videos to the attention of CDN, said this case is a microcosm of a bigger problem at the Memphis VA. “The situation in the Memphis VA has been out of hand for quite some time. To care for those who shall have borne the battle is clearly not the agenda at the Memphis VA,” Higgins said in a text message to CDN. “We veterans see the neglect from management that is filtered down to the staff that actually cares for these veterans. We continue to see more of the same: deny, delay, and hope you die before they have to pay.”

After this article was published, The Memphis Veterans Affairs provided the following response:

The Memphis Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center adheres to very strict privacy laws which prohibit sharing personal, protected information of our Veterans, therefore we are unable to speak to any matter that would compromise an individual’s right to privacy.  Care provided to our patients is based on individual health care needs.

The Memphis VA Medical Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Unit (SCI), utilizes Environmental Control Unit (ECU) technology which is installed on the bed of every SCI patient, and allows patients to call the unit nursing staff regardless of their physical capabilities. Patients, based upon their level of ability, can utilize voice activation, touch screen, sip n’ puff straws, switch controls, or even eye gaze to operate the ECU technology.  Activating the call button by one of the aforementioned methods triggers a sound alert throughout the spinal cord unit and a light over the patient’s doorway.  Nursing staff respond appropriately to calls for assistance. The Environmental Control Units allow patients to control their surroundings, and also to control various media such as eBooks, the Internet, Facebook, Skyping with their families, and playing computer games, among other features too numerous to mention.

To ensure continuity of care, the SCI charge nurse spends five to ten minutes every day at the beginning of each shift with incoming nursing staff to share the most recent information about patients on the SCI unit. All other staff are available on the ward caring for patients.  SCI patients require very personal, hands-on care and it is rare that nurses have frequent opportunity to sit or stand at the “nurses station” – they are mostly attending to patients in the patient’s room. At no time is our SCI unit vacant of staff.

The Memphis VA Medical Center was the first hospital in the area, public or private, to install this high-tech ECU equipment. The specially trained SCI staff at Memphis VA played a key role in developing these units based upon their professional observances and desire to give Veterans the most patient centered care possible

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