- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Decatur, Georgia, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) health center gave out $3,374 in bonuses in fiscal 2013, despite an internal investigator’s report of malfunctioning equipment at the facility.

Patients at the center, part of VA’s Atlanta network, routinely had to wait on their medication for as long as three hours because the facility lacked working medication carts, a report released Wednesday said.

Many more bonuses were also given out across the Atlanta network in fiscal 2013, the highest one at $5,000 for Associate Medical Center Director Thomas Grace. From 2007 to 2013, Atlanta VA bonuses totaled $2,414,450, according to government spending watchdog Open the Books. Leadership in Atlanta has changed over that period, with current Medical Center Director Leslie Wiggins replacing James Clark in May 2013. Ms. Wiggins did not receive a bonus in fiscal 2013.

An investigation by the VA’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector general (OIG), found that “17 of the 19 nurses we interviewed reported that they have administered medications late because they did not have access to a working medication cart.”

Some of the carts, which require electricity to aid nurses, didn’t have enough battery life and had to remain constantly plugged into the wall, severely limiting their mobility. Other carts lacked working computers.

This poses a problem for quality of care because medication such as insulin or painkillers must be administered on a strictly timed basis. Other medications only allow a narrow window of time for nurses to administer.

The hospital leaders were trying to purchase new equipment but described the acquisition process as “slow,” the IG said.

The report comes out amid staunch criticism by lawmakers and advocates against VA employee bonuses. Previous controversy has focused on waiting time coverups and related deaths.

In the Senate, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill and New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte introduced a bill on July 3 to reclaim VA bonuses from officials who lied about patients’ wait times.

“The use of secret waitlists by VA employees to hide actual wait times resulted in the delay or denial of veterans’ access to timely care,” Sen. Ayotte said in a statement. “It’s outrageous that employees who deliberately manipulated waitlists received bonus pay, and they must be held fully accountable for their misconduct — starting with repaying the funds they wrongly received.”

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