Nutrition and Food Service Workers at VA Hospital Turned Cockroach Infestation into Meals for Veterans
The Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital (EHVAH) in Hines, Illinois is overrun with cockroaches due to the laziness and indifference of its employees in the Nutrition and Food Service (NFS) area. The cockroach infestation at EHVAH is not necessarily a negative for inpatients at the facility because NFS personnel are independent thinkers who know how to capitalize on a golden opportunity.
The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) received a request from former U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and former Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth to conduct an environment of care inspection of the EHVAH. A safe assumption is that Kirk and Duckworth made the request based on information they received from their constituents about the disgusting condition of the EHVAH. The following were the allegations levied against the facility:
- Cockroaches were persistently present in and around the food services area.
- Patients received food trays containing cockroaches.
- Leadership knew about the unsanitary conditions (cockroaches) in the NFS kitchens and did not resolve the problem.
During a recent inspection of the EHVAH by the OIG, the inspectors uncovered incompetence, deception, laziness, and indifference on the part of government employees that led to unsanitary conditions that you would find in a crack house, not a health care facility.
The OIG substantiated the allegation that cockroaches are present in and around food preparation and service areas; more than just a few cockroaches, a cockroach infestation. The inspectors found “dead cockroaches on glue traps dispersed throughout the facility’s central kitchen, and cockroaches in open cardboard boxes with dry food products exposed.” The presence extended well beyond the glue traps and exposed food to a “cockroach infestation in the pot area of the main kitchen.” The human response to a cockroach invasion is to start cleaning immediately and call a pest control service; the people employed by America’s taxpayers didn’t clean or call an exterminator, they included the cockroaches in the daily meals they prepared and delivered to patients.
The OIG discovered that EHVAH received complaints from several patients that cockroaches were present on food trays they received. According to the OIG’s report, nursing staff and NFS staff witnessed cockroaches on food trays and transportation carts, including “cockroaches coming out of the transportation carts’ wheels.” The delivery carts were covered with food debris, and cockroaches took up residence on the carts. The kitchen staff viewed the cockroaches as a side dish, not a disgusting nuisance. However, the veterans who received meals contaminated with cockroaches had a different opinion of cockroach covered meals such as meatloaf and Salisbury steak; the veterans refused to eat their cockroaches, and according to nurses, “the patients’ distress would disrupt the entire unit.” Veterans voiced their displeasure by disturbing the peace and ordering pizza instead of eating cockroaches.
The OIG substantiated that leadership at EHVAH knew about and ignored the unsanitary food service conditions.
“We reviewed several e-mails from August 2015 through May 2016 amongst the Chief of NFS and the then-Chief of Environmental Management Service (EMS)/Acting Assistant Director (AD) and leadership staff discussing the presence of cockroaches in and around the main kitchen area. We also reviewed e-mails from December 2015 through May 2016 to the then-Chief of EMS/Acting AD from the pest control contractor reporting cockroaches in the main kitchen.”
Evidently, the facility had a contract with a pest control company, but never used its services; glue traps will work. According to the report, management not only discounted the cockroach scourge, but they also covered up the scourge by failing to report it as part of the required Environment of Care and Hospital Safety Hazard Surveillance inspection reports. “We found that the facility conducted inspections four times a year as required. Reports of the inspections did not include documentation of the presence of cockroaches.” Why would they not report the presence of delicious cockroaches? “To shut people up, we’ll put down a few glue traps and the cockroaches the traps don’t get we’ll serve to patients.”
What is the outcome of the OIG’s inspection? Unfortunately, the OIG provided its standard recommendations, including the obligatory “adhere to current policies and procedures” along with recommending that facility leaders devise and implement internal policies and procedures to resolve the problems. For instance, issue policies and procedures for cleaning the kitchen, food trays, and delivery carts. Once again, noticeably absent from the OIG’s recommendations was discipline for the offenders; VA employees are shielded from punishment, including termination.