There is no mechanism in place for the Department of Veteran Services to perform operational oversight of Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center, according to the Care Center’s administrator.
Sitter and Barfoot is a long-term care facility that provides rehabilitation services and medical care and comfort to as many as 160 veterans. It has two units, each with sixty private rooms. In addition, there is a specialized Alzheimer’s/dementia wing with forty rooms.
I requested a copy of an inspection done by the Department of Veteran Services. Instead, I was shown the review done by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency. When questioned, the administrator stated that the Virginia Department of Veteran Services does not inspect the operation of Sitter Barfoot. Further, the administrator said that Sitter and Barfoot is checked twice a year by two separate agencies: one federal and one state.
The two annual inspections, done by the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are done to evaluate the operation and care given to the most deserving of our aging population.
The Department of Health and Department of Veterans Affairs inspections cover the operation of the Care Center and typically last three to four days. Each department operates independently and comes at different times of the year.
The Department of Health evaluates the overall care delivered to those 160 veterans: quality of care, medical records, privacy, personnel practices; rehabilitation, food preparation, staffing, resident complaints, medications and more. Towards the end of the inspection process, a meeting is scheduled. The administrator and the director of nursing convene with the survey team to review the deficiencies found and draw up a corrective action plan.
Sitter and Barfoot received the highest grade possible in the 2014 survey.
After an interview with a health department surveyor, the health department failed to address four of my concerns:
• Medication errors
• Short staffing
• Ignoring communications
• Lack of dignity and respect
The health department showed little interest in my issues. Complaints from nursing home residents are considered unreliable and often ignored.
It begs to question the effectiveness of such an assessment and the trustworthiness of the Department of Health.
The Department of Health acknowledges a 12 to 15 month wait time to investigate complaints. I now have to wait again to get resolution. Residents in a nursing home would be fortunate to have that many months left.
The cleanliness of Sitter and Barfoot affects those doing the survey and accounts for the disparity between fiction and reality. Cleanliness covers many evils. Overall appearance diverts attention and unduly influences the outcome of the inspection.
The Health Department and Sitter and Barfoot are both state agencies. I question the reliability of one state agency evaluating the performance of another. Corruption, complacency, and a lack of transparency obscure objectivity in government self-appraisals. It is unlikely that a state agency tarnishes another agency’s operation; particularly one with such high and honorable intentions as caring for aging veterans.
The Department of Veterans Services needs more accountability in the delivery of care to deserving veterans.
Accountability does not stop with the administrator. The administrator has self-interests and financial demands to protect, as well as job security for the employees that have shown allegiance. The administrator and staff can hardly be expected to be objective. Government agencies have demonstrated that they do whatever is necessary to protect their province.
The Department of Veterans Services needs to be held accountable and responsive to the needs of all veterans it serves. It is mandatory that the Department of Veterans Services be pro-active and aggressive in ferreting out problems. Not just a self-serving propaganda arm for the Commonwealth.
Accountability at the top will cure the ills of Sitter and Barfoot and the Department of Veterans Services—and accountability with consequences must filter down to all levels.