CINCINNATI - Another month, another investigation is creating turmoil at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing drug-related allegations involving a nurse who was placed on unpaid administrative leave in late June. The incident was followed by a critical nursing shortage that forced the closure of a 24-bed inpatient unit at the Vine Street hospital on July 3.
“This is a temporary measure that has absolutely no negative impact on patient care,” the Cincinnati VA said in a prepared statement. "The unit will reopen on a partial basis July 23 and reopen fully once full staffing is achieved."
The VA declined to confirm what several sources told WCPO: The drug investigation involves the son of a high-ranking nurse executive at the hospital.
Because of the OIG review, “there is a limited amount of information we can provide,” said the Cincinnati VA statement. “However, this conduct is not in line with the norms and values of the VA. As a result, the employee has been removed from patient care and does not have access to VA medications while the VA pursues the appropriate criminal and administrative action.”
The VA said the Inspector General’s review is not related to the closure of a medical/surgical ward on the south wing of the hospital’s sixth floor. The VA denies claims by hospital sources that patients were diverted to other hospitals because of the closure, which eliminated about a third of the hospital's 72-bed capacity for acutely ill patients and those recovering from surgery.
The VA also denies hospital sources' claims that it responded to the drug investigation by demanding drug tests from other nurses, causing several to be angry enough to quit, thus triggering the closure of 6 South.
"Nurse recruiting challenges are a contributing factor," said the Cincinnati VA's statement. "We are dealing with these challenges by expediting the hiring/orientation process for short positions, increasing overtime, maneuvering nurse managers into direct care roles, signing a new contract with a nursing agency, and consolidating resources such as temporarily closing the nursing station at 6 south. These are all temporary measures until nursing staff returns to the expected level."
The closure is a sign of continuing disruptions in the Cincinnati health care system that cares for roughly 43,000 Tri-State veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs shook up its Cincinnati leadership in 2016 after a WCPO investigation documented cost cutting, mismanagement and patient care problems at the Vine Street facility.
The hospital’s former chief of staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, was convicted in January on a felony count of illegally prescribing pain pills for the wife of her former boss. Dr. Temeck has asked U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett to set aside the jury verdict or grant a retrial, but he’s yet to rule on the matter.
Last month, the VA temporarily removed Dr. Elizabeth Brill from her job as chief of staff as it investigates “certain operations of the surgery department.” The VA has yet to release a formal conclusion of its internal review on the surgery matter and has not provided public records sought by WCPO.