Friday, April 30, 2010

VA OUTRAGE: Readers voice anger, concerns over hospital problems

COLUMBIA, 4/30/10  (Beat Byte) --  Following Jennifer Truesdale's poignant letter about patient conditions at Columbia's Harry S. Truman Memorial VA Hospital, Columbia Heart Beat readers responded strongly, a few with personal stories of their own.
"I want to thank you for bringing this to light," wrote Columbia resident Lola Carey.  "My father too was at the VA, and the care was very similar to what the Truesdale family encountered.   My dad has now passed away, but the time he spent there was awful."
Carey said that although her family "stayed with him as much as possible" to assure he got necessary care, they couldn't be at the VA hospital 24/7.   Feeding, bathing, and basic patient services were continual problems, she explained. 
"It has been 3 years, but it was an experience I will never forget," Carey wrote.  When I had to leave him, I would cry and so would he.   When I drive down Stadium Blvd., I get chills when I go by the building."
Former Missouri Patient Care Review Foundation chief executive officer Sarah Grim, MSPH, CHE -- a Columbia-based health care management consultant -- wrote that she wished Truesdale and her father Roy -- a retired Marine Corps Lt. Colonel -- "all the best.  The VA has been treated poorly since Vietnam.  There is no lack of funding to go to war, but after care, the medical, mental, and housing assistance Veterans require becomes an unnecessary expense."
Slamming Congress' lackluster interest in Veteran's Administration priorities "over the last several years," Grim -- who also directed the South Florida and Greater Dayton, Ohio Area Hospital Associations -- said "the Truman VA Hospital never fills any of the tens of physician and dentist positions they have open.  I suspect they advertise, but have no funding." 
Acknowledging that Truman VA chief of staff Lana Zerrer, M.D. -- to whom Truesdale addressed her letter -- is "a fine physician," palliative (end-of-life) care expert and Ellis Fischel Cancer Center oncologist Clay Anderson, M.D. nonetheless said he wasn't surprised at the problems Truesdale detailed in her 6-page letter, about a week in the life of her father, a brain cancer patient, at the hospital.  
Similar problems plague a number of hospitals, where striving for absolute excellence has to be a 24/7 priority, Anderson explained. 
Finally, retired Boone County National Bank president Al Price said he forwarded Truesdale's story to MIssouri Congressman Blaine Leutkemeyer and Senator Claire McCaskill.  "Press on.  This is a worthy cause and needs to be addressed," Price wrote. 
Since removing her father Roy from the Truman VA, Jennifer Truesdale said, "Dad is hanging in there, but he is getting weaker."   She also said she appreciated the community outpouring.   
Referring to her father, Lola Carey reflected a sentiment -- feeling abandoned -- thousands of veterans have expressed over the decades.  Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in the classic short story "Soldier's Home," and many movies -- from Born on the 4th of July to Coming Home -- attempt to come to grips with its complex impact on the men and women who protect us from harm.   
"My dad was a WWII Vet, and truly believed that his country would take care of him," Carey wrote.  "It hurt him so bad that his country ultimately let him down"

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