Inspection reveals unnecessary deaths, unsanitary conditions at Memphis VA

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal review of the Memphis Veteran Affairs Medical Center shows some major violations.

From unsanitary conditions to veterans unnecessarily dying in their care, there are a lot of areas in need of improvement.

The inspection was conducted over a week-long period in January.

Veteran Sean Higgins worked at the hospital for a decade before being fired for what the VA called “disruptive behavior” and has reported several violations to the state noted in the review.

"We deserve better than what we're getting. We truly do," he said. "They are truly a house of horrors."

Along with unsanitary conditions, such as soiled furniture and dirty air ducts where food is prepared, there are also treatment concerns.

In a two-year period, nine patients developed pressure ulcers while at the facility, 16 patients with serious treatable conditions died at the facility and two patients developed catheter-related bloodstream infections.

"Out of every 2,000 veterans, a veteran dies in the Memphis VA and that's unacceptable," Higgins said.

The hospital blamed the issues on lack of communication, personnel and training.

They've hired more people and said they're working to fix all of the listed problems.

"This has been going on for far too long," Higgins said.

The report says the facility generally has stable executive leadership and active engagement with employees.

However, only half of the patients said they'd recommend the hospital to their friends and family.

Higgins says it's clear drastic changes need to be made.

"They need to fire everyone from the director on down to front-line management. It's the only way you're going to get the corrosive environment out of that facility."

He says he's been spearheading this fight for years now and hopes others will speak up and join him.

The VA released the following statement:

Memphis VA Medical Center appreciates the inspector general’s review, which focuses mostly on events that occurred under the facility’s previous leadership dating back to 2014.

Since then, VA has appointed a new facility director, made a number of key leadership changes and lowered the facility’s mortality rate to .81 percent – among the lowest of all VA facilities in this region.

Our leadership team continues to make significant improvements in patient care, customer service, and infrastructure.

While the inspector general found a number of opportunities for improvement, we welcome the scrutiny and consider this an opportunity to redouble our efforts to serve Veterans.

The Memphis VA Medical Center is under new leadership and on a new path, and we look forward to working with Veterans, community stakeholders and local and national VA leaders in order to complete all of the inspector general’s recommendations.

We also reached out to Congressman Steve Cohen's Office since he's been vocal about improving conditions at the hospital.

"While the report has some disturbing findings," Cohen said, "it also notes that, under its relatively new and permanent leadership, it has greater stability than before and that progress on all fronts is being made."

Copy of federal review of Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center