Complaints at VA go unanswered, says staff

West Haven Veterans Hospital. (File)

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — For years, Army Veteran Keith Delahanty has lived in this wheelchair. His left leg is a false one. It wasn’t a war injury that took it but an infection that followed an accident. He says it resulted from a mistake made at the West Haven Veterans hospital.

“If they had listened to me 13 months before, I may not have lost my leg,” said Delahanty.

Hospital and doctors records provided by Delahanty show that he had metal plates removed from his leg. He was there for physical therapy after being hit by a tractor trailer. Records show a screw was left inside his knee. Just weeks later, and after a bad infection, he would have his leg removed from the knee down. The hospital blames the accident, but he has other ideas.

“I believe fully that they gave me a staph infection in surgery,” he said.

Cleanliness of the OR could not be insured
Lack of Oversight

These are just two of the findings in a Veterans Affairs Inspector General report released in February. The hospital says it has been fixing the issues, including problems with staffing ever since.

“I see a lot of employees being injured and a lot of employees being mistreated,” said a current VA employee.

The News8 Investigators agreed to conceal the identities of four current Veteran Affairs employees who came forward to share what they say they experience regularly.

“It’s like a hazard working there,” said one employee.

All of these employees we spoke with have been injured on the job, injuries that they say could have been prevented. All of them have filed grievances with the hospital but say little has been done. Employees say it is not them, but a culture at the VA that starts with management. Rules are simply NOT followed.

“They all sound really good on paper. In reality, they’re totally meaningless. They’re not followed at all. They’re violated mostly”

Some of them claim that there are concerns with medical waste not being thrown away properly.

“Stuff that should be in biohazard bags would be in regular garbage or on the floor,” said an employee.

The West Haven VA declined on camera interview requests, instead issuing the following statement:

“VA Connecticut remains committed to providing the men and women who served our nation in uniform with the highest quality health care in the safest environment. We have systems in place throughout our organization to ensure that issues related to patient care, staffing and the environment of care are addressed.”

Some patients say that’s not what they’ve seen. In the latest patient satisfaction report,the West Haven VA got lower ratings than all of the VA hospitals in the region. When compared to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine, the West Haven VA ranks lower than all others in Pain Management, Cleanliness of the hospital, overall rating, and willingness to recommend.

Patients also reported longer wait times than any other hospital in the region.

Decorated Army Veteran Mark Jones says a simple knee operation nearly took his life.

“They put me in induced coma to keep me alive. For a knee operation”

It’s an issue that happens at all hospitals, admit these employees but it happens when it doesn’t need to at the VA, they say.

“A lot of employees are afraid to speak up because of retaliation…”

The VA was given 90 days to fix the issues that the Inspector General found. After that, they come back … and decide if the hospital needs more work. A VA Spokeswoman assures News8 that there have been improvements — they point to increased staffing, a larger focus on keeping these surgical units clean and replacing the head of cleaning. Monday, Hospital leaders said they passed recent inspections with flying colors.

Here’s a look at how the West Haven VA stacks up compared to other VA hospitals in New England. The chart below shows patient survey results. These are the most recent available.

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