Durham VA: Vets in viral photos got care they needed
Posted March 3
Durham, N.C. — Officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham insisted Friday that the patients depicted in photos that went viral on social media last weekend received the medical care they needed.
Hanna McMenamin took the photos on Feb. 24 as she waited with her husband in the emergency department so he could get help with his back pain. One photo shows a man in a wheelchair who appears to be in severe pain, while a second shows another man who is so weak that he lay down on the floor of the hospital.
"I want to reassure you that the veteran that was lying on the floor was not neglected," DeAnne Seekins, director of the Durham VA Medical Center, said during a news conference.
"We spoke personally with the veteran, and he stated that he was on the floor because it was more comfortable for him. He said was extremely satisfied with the care that he received," Seekins said, adding that hospital staff repeatedly got the man up off the floor and tried to provide him a "more appropriate area for him to rest."
A couple of other veterans shown in the photos also complimented the hospital for their care, she said.
About 50 patients were in the emergency department that night, Seekins said, and hospital administrators have determined wait times were "appropriate" based on the triage performed by staff.
"Patients with less severe problems did wait longer than we would hope on that very busy day," said Dr. Ken Goldberg, hospital chief of staff. "To those, I apologize for that inconvenience, (but) our staff were always able to provide immediate care to the sickest veterans."
Jesse Lee, the veteran in the wheelchair in the photos, said that, while he was pleased with his medical care, he was still angry about having to wait more than five hours for it.
"That was terrible. It was one of the worst things I ever had to go through," Lee said Friday.
Goldberg said Lee and the other veterans in the photos were in the emergency department for about six hours, and two wound up being admitted to the hospital. Privacy regulations prevented him from going into detail about their conditions or care.
Seekins tried to dispel the notion that the veterans were sitting around for six hours waiting to be seen, saying that time included going through triage, seeing a physician and having tests conducted.
After an internal investigation, one Durham VA staffer was disciplined for "rude behavior" toward a patient that night, including being removed from patient care, said Dr. Greg Eagerton, the hospital's associate director for patient care.
Seekins said the episode demonstrates emergency department issues that need improvement, so the hospital plans to add recliners for its emergency waiting area and to adjust its "surge plan" to cut wait times during high-traffic times in the department.
"It saddens me that we didn't meet our own expectations that every veteran would receive dignity and respect at all times. Nothing less will be accepted here at this medical center," she said.
Steve McMenamin said Friday that hospital also fell short in its response to the situation.
"I kind of wanted them to apologize, say this is wrong and to fire the nurse, and the response has been completely opposite," McMenamin said. "There are a lot of people, because they canâ€™t get fired, because their job is mostly protected, theyâ€™re there, and they donâ€™t really care what happens because theyâ€™re getting their paycheck."