tv News4 Under Scrutiny Inside the DC VA Hospital NBC July 7, 2019 5:30am-6:01am EDT
it's supposed toe the flagship hospital for veterans here in the nation's capital. >> as an employee, it'srs the place i've ever seen. theut scandal has rocked massive facility. >> change takes time. >> improvement takes time. >> years after the i-team first started reporting, congress is holding its own investigation. tonight, a news 4 i-team special, undery. scrut inside the d.c. va. here's scott mcfarland. >> a tip from a viewer like you helpedh one of the largest projects the news 4 i-team has ever undertaken. uncovering problems at the d.c. va center andng leadio a congressional hearing.
>> it shouldn't take an investigative team from news 4 to help us fix theroblem. the head of the medical center answered tough questions in front of the house committee and pledged fixes for problems you're about to see. over the next half hour we're taking you inside the investigation to reveal how the problem first erupted. among the men and women who walked through the doors this year. >> i was having problems with multiple sclerosis. >> what the doctors saw made clear to them they needed to admit you. > right. ait fourth of july the air conditioning fd inside and the temperatu was unbearable. 36 hours later you're walking t. >> right. >> just one of a series of problems insides flagship medical center. that's according to an ongoingi investigat by the news 4 i-team. supplies of bloodlu and shots
were ruined. doctors canceled procedures. one patient had to be wakened from anesthesia because they couldn't find the needed equipment. >> procedure delays, do you find that in this quantity? >> not in this quantity. >> and problems with sterilizing equipment, all from aulture of complacency from scathing report. >> they had to improvise and take stop-gap measures. >> that's not common in va medical centers. >> it shouldn't be. >> the agency had missed warninf signsm years ago. a 2014 report written by aou contractor fnd shortcomings. >> there were warnings about this as far back as 2013.se some of t problems are significant in size.
and you were here. long before 2017. how was any of this, what you call a surprise? >> first of all, i think you're exactly right. these are issues that you find through much of the va that are long-standing issues. i was not aware ofhose issues. i was not aware until the inspector general picked up the phone. >> five men have headed this facility since 2017. michael heimle is on the job now.n he sat dow with the i-team a few weeks into the job to address the uphill battle he faced. >> every veteran in the community shouldnderstand that we take their trust in us very, very seriously. >> michael heimle knew all eyes were watching him. it just seems track ecgic. the flagship is the worst in the nation. >> it shouldn't be that way. i want a health ca system that
i am comfortable that i trust with my care. >> when we spoke to him last fall he admitted fixes would not come quickly. >> i've told the staff we'vea gt five-year plan. and it will really be a five-year plan to get organization to where i want to see it perform. >> a scathing audit last march foundozs of deficiencies on the ground, but an i-team review showsoma handful were corrected before his arrival. >> leaks in the roof. concerns about the building itself. how do you fix that? >> it takes time. it takes scheduling of projects, and it takes funding. >> heimle ss he's trying to ploy more employees to address sterilization and problems that have haunted the medical center for years. >> every single one of them, we take a look at where did our profits break down so that that case had to bean cled and what are we going to change in our process today so it doesn't happen tomorrow. >> while at the sa time
keeping current employees motivated. >> our staff has been through an awful lot. they know the ig report out there. they see pieces in the media and staff get beat down over that. >> a few months after that interview, the i-team began hearing from other insiders, including eurrentloyees who thought they needo speak out about progress being made. you're a veteran. dove you recei care there? >> i do, but i will not get any procedure done there. >> striking words from veter who know first hand what it's like inspie the hostal. >> why do you stay there? >> for the reps. >> they need you? >> i am one. >> they are currentmpyees and worry about retaliation for speaking out. >> we're crying out for help and we're just not getting the resources we need. >> it's been one year since investigators dropped a or bombshell rept about this facility, revealing widespread mismanagent, supply shortages,
postponed procedures and wasted money. >> this isn't a one-month, six-month rebuilding, this is three to ve yearso really bring this facility back to where it should be. >> heimle spoke u with a second time this spring. he says they've had phenomenal success in reducingui hospital-rd inspections and improving sterilization and wer postponed or canceledes procedur >> we have not had a procedure postponed due to equipment availability really since early december. >> there have been procedures that have bn postponed orel ca due to supply shortages. >> recently. >> yes. >> but emplohees say are still postponements and still scrambling. >> there are times that people have toot run to her facilities and get a supply that a patient needs. >> dou have enough people helping you? >> no. no. not at all. it's a challenge. every d to figure out what to do.
>> employees say many of the continued proems stemrom chronic staffing shortages and problems in human resources, something noted in the 2018 inspector general report. this civilian employee says some co-workers are struggling with their own healt issues due to the added work load and weeks of overtime needed to pick up the slack. >> we know h hard they're working. >> he admits there needs to be improvement in hr. they hired 136 new staff in early 2019 and uonngactors to fill some gaps. but the employees who spoke out worry management isn'tistening enough to those on the front line. >> feel scared. asn employee, it's the worst place i've ever seen. >> at the recentongressional hearing the director said they have recently eliminated the backlog for prosthetics and
implemented procedures for the staff. when we come back, devastated families wondering if more could have been done to save their loved ones. and an alarming escape. how did a psychiatric patience enage to esc the hospital and get an employee to call him a cab. [music playing] (vo) this is matt and rachel. and this is the few minutes they have until naptime is over. this is rachel depositing a check without leaving the house.
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welcome bk. as you've seen, the d.c. medical sen ver h has been plagued wseh veral problems. >> woodrow was a jokester sometimes. he was family-oriented. >> the annual family outing at haynes point didn't seem the aume. >> bec he wasn't there. >> she says the grief of losing her brother is made worse by how the navy veteran died, just
hours after receiving care at the d.c. va medical center. >> he had two appointments that day. the earlier one he kept.he >> he didn't return his family became concerned and h called theospital but says no one could locate him. the next day, loretta decided to go look for herself. >> as soon as i turned in, there was his car. my heart w beating. sometimes you just get this, this feeling or this sense of something. >> she spotted his vehicle parked in a handicapped spot, her brother still inside but gone. medical records showed the cause of death was mixed drug intoxication and ruled accidental. >> why couldn't they find the car? it was right there. >> but our news 4 i-team investigation revealed that's not the only recent death that has troubled veterans and workershi inside t medical center.
willie davis underwent a lung biopsy. he immediatelyomained of pain and coughing. rushed that nig to george washington er heied hours later. his daughter declined to speak about the case on camera but says they never heard from the va after the biopsy. they say they didn't hear about the death until the other hospital septembnt the va a bil. >> i can't spoo eeak to what happened before i got here. >> hospital procedures are under review and changes will beecade sary he says. >> if we've done something wrong we have anio obligat to disclose that to the patient and the family. >> we're in this location in the past. >> on february 6, the vet who suffered from opioid addiction enters the emergency room. hesk a staff to admit him to the hospital. but he was released and given a
february 8th followup appointment. february 12th, the man shot himself inside his home. there was some type of break down in the process. >> absolutely. absoastely. that w veteran that came to us for help, and we failed. > we checked federal hospital databases. when it comes to communicating with patients recovering at home, it is below t average in d.c. a month after that report, a new issue uncovered by the ig that concerned the public when a patient managed to escape. internal records say the 29-year-old man escaped the psychiatric ward after entering the shower in may. by removing the ceiling tiles, removing part of the ceiling ventilation and crawling to a neighboring office outside the space. here's what happened next according to a relative. >> he went through the emergency
room and asked somne in the emergency room, the staff at the hospital, to call a taxicab. >> and they called him a cab. >> they called him a cab. >> he wasea wng his hospital clothes. >> he was wearing his scrub bottoms and tank top. >> he was taken to a home in man manassas where he held a woman. before getting into the cab, the patient called home to alert family he was out. the family called the va hospital twice to warn them the man escaped and they said they couldn't confirm he was even a patient. >> you tried to warn them that he'd escaped. >> i did. >> and thedidn't go look? >> no, ty didn't even bother walking in to check his room. >> after that incident, internal va records show staff were retrained on how to better
identify escape risks, tamper resistance vlas fasteners were n the ceiling tiles. he has since been released. problems not just inside the va but outside as veterans try to make amendments and a parking crunch. we'll be duke's is far and away favorite mayonnaise and it has been for as long as i can remember.de it tastes home but it's ben i could make. for any potato salad, you have to have mayo and you might as well start with the best. and it's duke's. and it's duke's (lghs). really good. the fact that they use real egg yolks and there is no add sugar, you can
to get you started. whatever you need to get your yard in shape...fo do it right less. start with lowe's. it was a story about the local va hospital that really stuck with a lot of viewers. veterans struggling to stand or get around often forced to walk ng distances just to see their doctors. why? because hug parking problem. getting most places takes just e li longer for sequoia pointer these days.
>> when you have a traumatic situation happen to you, you just, you jus don't recover as fast as they think. >> three decades after serving in the u.s. army, pointer is fighting another battle, he's recovering from a stroke and struggles to use his left arm and leg. >> you set aside 30 minutes just to find parking. >> just toind parking. >> but getting to his appointments recently has turned into a lesson inatience. we watched him unload his scooter andake the long trek from the back of the lot just to get inside. >> he's going to have to fight through the traffic, fight for a parking space and then fht t get in there and go wherever he's going. i've walked those halls with him. they're long. >> whethn we first met jonathan warwick he was trying tote navigaver a hill. he just had two hips replaced, a fractured spine, did it occur to you, i shouldn't be walking this far to get to my doctor?
>> in a sense, yes, i shouldn't, i shouldn't have to be walking that far. >> the news 4 i-team found patie t after patient forced to walk long disnces after searching for a spot. how far? we measured from the front door. mo more than a football field and half. this is a growingoncern. a parking challenge means some veterans may not even be trying to go. >> exactly. >> internal records show they've been aware of this problem, calling it an unacceptableci defiency and identifying dozens of other parking issues at dozens of centers nationwide. there's this big list of needs nationwide. does that surprise you. >> unfortunately, no. >> some good news in april, they finallpe od a new parking garage. it holds about 400 cars and
there is a shuttle service to carry veters from their vehicles to the frontoors. a message to d.c. veterans from the head of the agency when this news 4 i-team special returns. get the deals now during the great american tent sale at sears. save up to 30% off appliances... ...like thisfoenmore fridge twelve ninety-nine ninety-nine.
the director of the.c. va medical center says there have been positive venevents. the director charged with watchdogging this center says a progress report will come in in october this year. the secretary of veterans affairs says progress is being made at the medical center and did so in recent sit-down interview with the i-team where he talked about the vaa and thi facility. >> the good news ishat the ratings have gone up. it's now no longer a one-star facility. it's a two-star facilit
have a dedicated women's health clinic. our mortality rates are as good or better than any in metropolitan washington, d.c. and that is a huge step forward. we final put in place permanent leadership. i can't speak to the crises that you reported on in the last few years. i wasn't here. but iue req ten tell you that w focussing on d.c. it should be the flagsh, and i do think it has improved greatly. >> the permanent direct yor you referenced says this will take years, not months. i didn't see that comment, but i hope it doesn't, and it's my goal across thent cou to make sure that those things don't happen. >> what do you say to the d.c. veterans? >> what i say to the d.c. veterans is first, thank you for volunteering to serve your country. come to us come to us and tell us what you see that is right
and tell us what you see that is wrong. this is not your grandfather's va anymore. we are changing with the population of veterans. >> the news 4 i-team would also like to hear from you. the stories that you see cfre veterans and employees. if you have something we should be investigating with the va there are many ways to reach us. you see the phone number and e-mail on our screen. you can call us at 202-885-4444 or@n tips s4iteam.com. from our entire news 4 i-team and all the men and women of nbc 4 we thank you for joining us for this speal r
news4 "today" starts now. >> waves of heavy rain roll through the d.c. area again this time leaving some destruction in the district. plus, some showers are on the way f our sunday. and dueling rallies downtown. far right groups stage a freedom of speech demonstration, but they were outbered by a massive crowd of counterprotesters. billionaire jeffery epstein gets put in cuffs after laining the united states. more how his case was from a dady courtrooml to new child sex trafficking charges. and welcome in at 6:00 on this sunday morning. thank you for being here with