VA hospital chief says patient video was deleted

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Las Vegas-area hospital no longer has security video sought for a congressional investigation into the treatment of a blind Navy veteran whose friend documented her hours-long waiting room stays, a newspaper said.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System chief Isabel Duff told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Tuesday report that the video was automatically purged and couldn’t be retrieved. (http://bit.ly/1gUpn0u)

A call on Tuesday to Duff was referred to a VA hospital spokesman, David Martinez, who didn’t immediately respond to messages.

At issue is the treatment of 78-year-old Sandra Niccum, who the Review-Journal said was diabetic and battled a colon disorder before she died Nov. 15 at a hospice.

The investigation began after Niccum’s friend, Dee Redwine, chronicled long waiting room stays without pain medication during Niccum’s evaluation and treatment at the VA center Oct. 22 and Oct. 24.

Redwine said Niccum cried for help and pounded her walking cane on the hospital floor in frustration when she was told by a VA worker that she couldn’t curl up on two chairs in the empty waiting room. Redwine said Niccum was required to sit in her wheelchair for six hours until the hospital closed.

A complaint about Niccum’s treatment was being investigated by the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said in November.

On Dec. 12, the day of a memorial service for Niccum at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, Miller released a letter he sent to VA Inspector General George Opfer calling for an investigation.

It said Niccum “was made to wait six hours for emergency care and was repeatedly disrespected and mistreated by staff” at the VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas.

Duff in September became the top administrator of the medical system with about 2,200 local employees caring for some 50,000 veterans.

The $600 million building opened in August 2012 with 90 inpatient beds, a 120-bed nursing home and an outpatient care center, plus specialty care, dental, surgery, mental health, rehabilitation, and geriatric units.

Duff said Niccum’s “complicated” Oct. 22 evaluation entailed waiting for information to determine appropriate care.

She said efforts to retrieve the digital video in-house and from a contractor failed.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the lack of video evidence made it more important for a thorough investigation.

Joanne Moffett, a spokeswoman for the VA Office of Inspector General, told the Review-Journal on Monday that she wouldn’t comment on Duff’s revelation because the investigation was underway.

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

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