Durham VA Medical Center Director DeAnne Seekins has issued an official statement regarding a series of photos showing veterans writhing on the floor in pain and being neglected while awaiting treatment at the Durham, NC, VA hospital. The photos went viral after being posted by Stephen McMenamin, a former U.S. Marine and his wife. The social media outrage and public backlash has forced the facility to respond to allegations of neglect and rude employees.
Durham issued an official statement claiming that the veterans didn’t receive treatment due to the high number of patients waiting to be seen. Durham said:
On Friday evening, February 24, photos were taken in the Durham VA Medical Center’s Emergency Department during an extremely busy time. We provided care to approximately 130 Veterans that day. When the photos were taken, there were approximately 50 patients in the Emergency Department area—23 receiving care and 26 in the waiting area. The photo posted on social media depicts one Veteran lying on the floor and several others waiting to be seen.
She went on to say that the employees responsible for caring for veterans in the waiting room has been removed from their position, stating that a full investigation is being conducted. Allegations that the staff were rude and unhelpful were also investigated and confirmed. Employees found guilty of being rude and disrespectful to patients have also been punished.
As a result of the allegation, we removed the employee from patient care. Our staff also reviewed the medical records to ensure the appropriateness and timeliness of the clinical care provided to our patients. We also identified a team to investigate the allegations of rude behavior by a staff member… Unfortunately, our team substantiated the allegation of rude behavior from one of our employees, which runs counter to our values. As a result, we have taken the appropriate disciplinary actions based on the incident.
Despite punishing the employees, she went on to defend the organization. Stating that the photos of the veteran on the floor were taken out of context. She claims the veteran lying on the floor was not neglected and that employees were providing care to the elderly veteran.
Despite our employees’ failure to meet the high standards we demand when it comes to serving our Veterans, I want to reassure everyone the Veteran pictured lying on the floor was not neglected. We spoke personally with the Veteran. He stated that he was on the floor because he was more comfortable there and was in fact extremely satisfied with his quality of care and experience. We also reviewed security footage of the incident. Each time the Veteran repositioned himself from a chair to the floor staff responded in less than two minutes providing a safe, more appropriate area for him to rest. They also provided him a warm blanket and footstool for additional comfort.
She went on to say that their executive leadership team reached out to all of the veterans present in the photo. All of veterans that were contacted received satisfactory care and were seen in a reasonable time frame, according to Durham.
Our Executive leadership team attempted to reach all the Veterans visible in the photo and were successful in speaking with two of the three. The second Veteran also indicated his satisfaction with his quality of care and experience. Another Veteran who was in the area during the incident has since come forward to provide his input regarding the high quality care he received during his visit to the Emergency Department that night. The third Veteran has been actively engaged with his treatment team throughout the week. The investigation also determined that the wait times for all Veterans seen were appropriate based on their clinical assessment.
After issuing the statement, Durham opened the floor to her Chief of Staff Dr. Ken Goldberg, and Nurse Executive Dr. Greg Eagerton, the American Legion Mr. Cash, and community partner Ms. Lois Harvin-Ravin who all made brief statements before opening the floor for questions.