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CBS12 News Investigates Part 1: Filth and cross-contamination concerns at VA

West Palm Beach VA (WPEC file photo)

VA hospitals across the country have been in the spotlight for exposing patients to questionable conditions, and CBS12 News Investigates uncovered it’s happening right here at home.

After a six-month investigation, our team uncovered the risk of cross contamination with rooms left dirty and improper use of gloves and aprons by employees.

Bart Hollobaugh is a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy.

Hollobaugh said his experience at the West Palm Beach VA is one he will never forget because of how filthy his room was.

"When I got there, I noticed there was food on the floor, rubber bands on the floor, used tissues under the bed,” he said.

"There was a lot of very questionable dried substances all over the room,” he added, "I think a lot of it may have been human bodily fluids."

Doctors admitted Hollobaugh for a kidney stone.

He says so much disgusting mess covered the bathroom in his room, he refused to use it.

"I was not going to subject myself to the horrors of the filth in that bathroom,” Hollobaugh said.

INSIDER

A source from inside the West Palm Beach VA described what's going on as horrific and a complete disgrace to the men and women who served our country faithfully.

He said Hollobaugh's story is just the beginning.

"On the outside it looks nice, but on the inside, it's terror... horror," the source said.

The source, who did not want to be identified, contacted CBS12 News Investigates with video and pictures from inside the VA he took throughout the year.

"It is terrible. It is dirty, filthy, smelly. S**t smells all over. They don't clean the patients,” he said.

The biggest concern, he said, is the risk of patients and staff getting sick from cross-contamination.

He took pictures of used red biohazardous trash bags and said they were not disposed of properly.

The red bags are typically used to dispose of blood, feces, and other bodily fluids.

He said he found a bag not sealed in an open hall closet near food storage and one red bag thrown out with regular trash.

The Center for Disease Control's regulations state gloves should always be changed after use on each patient.

The source also told us the he saw doctors and nurses not dress properly when they go into contagious patient rooms.

He also said, “Not only doctors and nurses and others, housekeepers too. They just don't follow the health code law."

The source also said he took photos of medical equipment and patient rooms that were dirty - including a shower seat with dried feces in it.

INSPECTIONS

According to the private contractor, Long term Care Institute inspectors cited the West Palm Beach VA staff multiple times in March for neglecting patients.

And in 2008, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs inspectors cited them for nurses not washing their hands after handling medical equipment, which can lead to infection.

The hospital was also cited for contaminated equipment stored in the improper place.

CBS12 News Investigates contacted the VA about the allegations and showed them some of the photos.

The VA said they want to be as transparent as possible and agreed to show us the area in this picture that our source told us was used for food storage and had the unclosed red biohazard trash bag.

"We have no food or stove. We can't do that. It's against federal regulation,” VA public affairs officer Kenita Gordon said.

But we did see food in there, including bananas and condiments, as well as kitchen appliances and dishes inside.

Our source recorded video of a food cart stored inside.

He said every morning, they store the prepared food trays there before distributing them to patients.

"We do not have a problem with cross contamination in this building,” said Kevin Stack, Chief of Environmental Management Services.

When we asked if he thinks it’s a conflict for biohazardous material to be so close to condiments to plates, he said no.

They declined to show us other areas of the hospital in which the source’s pictures showed dirty conditions because of patient confidentiality.

STATEMENTS

However, they did send us a full statement and responded to Bart Hollobaugh’s comments and the source’s photos and video clips.

Below are the complete emails:

FULL STATEMENT

The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center is committed to providing our Veterans with the highest quality health care and services in a clean and safe environment. We are also committed to continuous improvement and include Veterans and their families in our decision-making processes. When we learn that we may have fallen short of our patients expectations, we take those concerns seriously and determine how we can improve.

One of the actions we take to ensure we maintain a safe and healing environment includes conducting joint clinical and environmental management staff walking rounds. For the safety of our patients we adhere to established policies to include those that address hand hygiene and biohazard waste disposal that staff members are mandated to follow.

We have an active Patient and Family Advisory Committee, chaired by a Veteran, that helps us make ethical and responsible decisions on behalf of our patients. We also have a Community Living Center’s Resident Council that provides feedback to our leadership team on how we can help Veterans who reside in our facility feel at home, safe and cared for with dignity. Based on their feedback, we recently began offering room service to our inpatients so they have fresh, cooked to order food of their choosing. The medical center has, and always will, take every measure possible to enhance the Veteran experience and provide a safe healing environment. If at any time a Veteran or their families are concerned about their health care experience or safety, we encourage them to contact our Patient Advocate Team at 561-422-8600.

RESPONSE TO HOLLOBAUGH

Mr. Hollobaugh wrote letter to the editor which was published in January 2018 regarding this same situation: (link to article)

Those concerns were addressed immediately when they were brought to our attention and we still stand by our statement. We can go into further specifics if he agrees to sign the release form.

RESPONSE TO SOURCE’S PHOTOS AND VIDEO

The person who filmed this video appears to be engaging in repeated violations of VA policies and procedures with respect to both cleanliness and patient confidentiality.

These unacceptable actions are consistent with those of a former West Palm Beach VA Medical Center employee who recently resigned after being confronted about repeatedly filming work areas he was assigned to clean instead of actually cleaning them.

At the West Palm Beach VAMC, we maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and patient confidentiality. When employees fail to uphold to these standards, they are disciplined appropriately.

Read part two.

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