The Department of Veteran Affairs released its first report on the status of its nursing homes this month and the results show widespread neglect and abuse at the government-run facilities, perhaps even worse than the well-documented problems seen in its private-care counterpart. The federal government is responsible for caring for the country’s 40,000 veterans and, according to its own report, is doing a poor job. The report analyzed 99 VA nursing homes across the country and reported the findings of surprise inspections conducted by outside contractors. The VA spokesperson said that releasing the report in its entirety is part of a new push by the agency for transparency and accountability.
The findings of the report are daunting. Eleven of the 99 nursing homes were so unsafe that veteran safety was in “immediate jeopardy.” More than half of the nursing homes (52) were deficient enough to cause “actual harm” to their veteran residents. “That is really bad. It’s really bad,” Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nursing home advocacy nonprofit told USA Today.
Almost one-third of the nursing homes had patients with preventable bedsores. In one particularly horrific case, the inspector noted that a “resident [with a bedsore] moaned throughout the wound care and moaning increased during wound cleansing and measuring.” The resident was at least getting treated for his bedsore, though. In one case, an inspector noted that a patient had developed five to six bedsores in the previous six months. Despite developing these painful sores, the nursing home still failed to follow basic protocols to treat the resident or prevent any further bedsores.
Failing to follow basic protocols was a theme of the federal government’s report. Three facilities were cited for failing basic sanitary practices, such as washing hands or wearing sterile gowns and gloves. At many nursing homes run by the Department of Veteran Affairs, washing and bathing was a dangerous activity. Several residents were scalded by hot water while being bathed. In other instances, the nursing home staffers were simply incompetent at cleaning and bathing residents. Almost a third of facilities had residents with recurring infections that should not have occurred with basic sanitation practices.
A mere seven nursing homes out of the 99 appeared to “pass” the surprise inspections. Despite this shockingly low number, Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie offered justifications and excuses by stating, “Overall, VA’s nursing home system compares closely with private-sector nursing homes, though the department on average cares for sicker and more complex patients in its nursing homes than do private facilities.” While Wilkie’s statements may be true, they should only mean that the private sector has just as much work to do on improving care for the nation’s elderly population. With government spending on VA nursing homes at $3.8 billion, America’s veterans and taxpayers both deserve much better from the government agency.