Veterans Affairs officials are disciplining nine department workers — including the regional director for three southeastern states — in response to ant-infested conditions at a department-run community center in Georgia uncovered earlier this month.
Officials have also promoted the head of the VA medical center in Charleston, S.C., to take over as acting regional director immediately and lead reform efforts at facilities across that part of the department’s health network.
“What happened at (the community center) was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said in a statement. “Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard.”
Last week, lawmakers reacted with horror at local news reports that at least three patients suffered injuries from numerous insect bites at the Eagle’s Nest Community Living Center near Atlanta. The family of one veteran (who later died from unrelated causes) said their complaints about the conditions were met with apathy from center staff.
Among the staff disciplined for the incident Tuesday were Leslie Wiggins, Veterans Integrated Service Network 7 director, who was placed on “immediate administrative leave.” The VISN Chief Medical Officer was also assigned to administrative duties, pending a review of safety issues in the network
Seven staff connected to the infested facility and the Atlanta VA Medical Center were also moved into non-patient care positions, pending job reviews.
The news comes amid a series of high-profile, unsettling medical problems at VA hospitals in recent weeks. Last month, a former VA pathologist in Arkansas was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of former patients. Officials in West Virginia are also investigating a series of suspicious patient deaths at a VA medical center there.
Days after that news became public, officials announced they had opened an investigation into a series of sexual assault claims at another West Virginia medical center.
VA officials have insisted that they are moving quickly on all of the incidents to ensure patient safety is not compromised.
Last week, in a statement to local news, officials at the Atlanta VA Health Care System said that the convalescent care center underwent a full cleaning following the revelations of insect problems.
VISN 7 covers facilities in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.