Veterans hospital plagued with problems

Two years passed before patients who had trouble swallowing or chewing could get applesauce at John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis. When a nurse brought in his own applesauce to give to patients who needed drugs ground up and sprinkled into soft food, he was reprimanded for his efforts.

This was just one of several examples of a culture of dysfunction plaguing the VA hospital, four nurses said yesterday, according to a press release from Rep. Russ Carnahan's (D-Mo.) office. Carnahan has called for several investigations of the facility, which he and Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) visited yesterday to draw attention to the problems.

"This is not rocket science," Filner, who is the outgoing chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "This is applesauce."

The hospital has been under scrutiny since last June, when improperly cleaned dental equipment may have exposed up to 1,800 veterans to blood-borne pathogens. Other problems, which suggest that veterans at the hospital aren't getting the best care possible, included chronically broken or unavailable oxygen tubing for respirators; poor nurse-to-patient ratios that meant patients went days without baths or clean bedsheets; and nonexistent tools for time-critical diagnoses.

Wes Gordon, a telemetry nurse at Cochran, said he emailed managers hundreds of messages alerting them to problems over the past year, to no avail in many cases.

Since the problems were exposed, the hospital has hired a new chief of logistics, purchased more equipment and reset supply levels so that supplies in high demand will be available, according to a statement from the medical center's public affairs office. "The medical center leadership considers input from staff, veterans and their families indispensible, and has systems in place for reporting concerns and suggestions for improvement," the statement said.

Another nurse, veteran Glenda Skinner, noted at yesterday's meeting, that Cochran was much worse than other VA hospitals where she had worked before. "I hope this is the end of where we have been," she said, "and the beginning of better care for these patients."

To learn more:
- read the press release from Rep. Russ Carnahan's office
- here's the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story
- read the Riverfront Times article

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