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Atlanta VA reprimands 2 employees after patients' deaths

Jun. 27, 2013 - 08:20AM   |  
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ATLANTA — The Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center has reprimanded two employees and is considering similar punishment against two more after examining three patient deaths blamed on mismanagement of the hospital’s mental health unit, officials said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the reprimands were outlined by federal officials in a June 11 response made to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Two unnamed employees were reprimanded April 25. Officials recommended two more reprimands in May, but those decisions had not been finalized by mid-June. A reprimand can remain in an employee’s file for up to three years.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the committee chairman, called the response insufficient.

“This is not only a slap in the face to the families of the veterans who died, but a disturbing example of VA’s well-documented accountability problem,” he said.

A report by the department’s inspector general blamed the deaths of three patients on problems in the hospital. Officials found one man died of an apparent drug overdose after hospital staff did not connect him with a psychiatrist. Another man committed suicide after failing to see a VA psychiatrist who was not available. Hospital staff told that man to take public transportation to an emergency department. The third patient died from taking drugs given to him by another patient.

A fourth death has also been reported. Last year, a 42-year-old Army veteran being treated for depression and anxiety locked himself in a bathroom and committed suicide after being discharged, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, said he wants VA staff members fired.

“The VA calls this an ‘appropriate action’ in response? I’m certain the patients’ families don’t feel the same,” Gingrey said. “Those responsible must be fired, not simply reassigned. Period. End of story.”

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