VA now says it fired two after veteran's body was left in shower nine hours

An internal report says staff tried to cover up mistakes made when the body of a veteran was left for nine hours in a shower at the hospice unit of the sprawling Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Seminole. [Scott Keeler   |   Times, 2014]
An internal report says staff tried to cover up mistakes made when the body of a veteran was left for nine hours in a shower at the hospice unit of the sprawling Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Seminole. [Scott Keeler | Times, 2014]
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SEMINOLE — Two staff members were fired, officials now say, for their role in leaving a veteran's body unattended more than nine hours in a shower room at the hospice unit of the Bay Pines VA Health Care System.

Last week, Bay Pines officials would not provide specifics of any disciplinary action taken as a result of their internal investigation into the Feb. 1 incident. After a Tampa Bay Times story on the incident appeared during the weekend, however, Bay Pines released more details to show the matter was being taken seriously.

Bay Pines felt it "necessary to ensure our stakeholders and the public were informed and knew that appropriate personnel action was taken, which, in some cases, included terminations," hospital spokesman Jason Dangel said.

All staff members involved in the incident were initially removed from patient care, Dangel said. After the investigation, two staffers were fired and others suspended, admonished or reprimanded.

BACKSTORY: VA staff left veteran's body in shower nine hours, tried to hide mistakes

"I can assure you our leaders did not merely issue a few wrist slaps, and that (there were) swift, strong and deliberate steps to strengthen and improve the unit going forward," Dangel said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has come under fire among Republicans in Congress over what they see as its failure to fire employees over poor performance.

Republicans introduced legislation to make it easier to terminate VA employees, which passed in the House earlier this year but died in the Senate.

The legislation is important because too often, VA employees found to be violating the rules keep their jobs, said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Palm Harbor Republican and vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

"I am deeply disturbed by the incident that occurred at the Bay Pines VA hospital, and even more distressed to learn that staff attempted to cover it up," Bilirakis said in a news release. "The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability."

The internal investigation report found that some hospice staff violated hospital and VA rules by failing to properly care for the remains of the veteran and then taking steps to cover up their actions.

According to the report, the body was left unattended because hospice staff members didn't make a request through proper channels to have the body removed. Instead, they contacted an individual described as a transporter, who told them to call dispatch. They never did.

At first, the body was moved to a hallway in the hospice, then to a shower room, where it stayed, unattended, for more than nine hours.

Once the problem was discovered, efforts to understand how it happened were stalled by failures in oversight and by reports that "falsely documented" the incident, the report says. Staff misrepresented why the problem occurred, attributing it to a communications breakdown that never happened, according to the report.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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