The Hines VA medical center in Chicago has finally decided to shut down its kitchen and remodel facilities after reports emerged of an insect infestation so bad that cockroaches ended up being served in veterans’ food.
Back in April, whistleblowers contacted GOP Sen. Mark Kirk and informed him of the disgusting kitchen conditions leading to a cockroach infestation, prompting Kirk to call the VA and demand a serious investigation into the situation and a timely remedy. Hines VA Acting Director Marc Magill followed through on Kirk’s request. Whistleblowers say Magill has been instrumental in moving the remodeling effort forward.
Now, Hines is closing that kitchen down and setting up a temporary mobile kitchen in its stead to maintain food services.
The VA at first tried to clean up the kitchen, but despite these efforts, employees continually provided updates to Kirk, telling him that the cockroaches weren’t going anywhere. At one point, the hospital was advised to “keep doing what they’re doing” as the problem wasn’t deemed all that severe.
“Initially two years ago, as a clinical nutritionist, I experienced cockroaches coming up on patient’s trays, and I had identified it to the top official, and the acting director had given the order to look into the matter,” Kelvin Gilkey, a clinical nutritionist at Hines and one of the first whistleblowers to raise the cockroach issue, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “However, that was never done. As we were continuously having that same problem, I chose to go above and beyond their head. That’s how it came to the point where we are now.”
Gilkey got in touch with Kirk’s office, and Kirk proceeded to put pressure on the VA.
“Today we obtained a victory for veterans and whistleblowers at Hines VA,” Kirk told The Daily Caller News Foundation regarding the kitchen announcement from Hines. “For far too long, whistleblowers have been afraid to come forward and expose veteran harm at our VA hospitals. These whistleblowers not only felt their voices would not be heard, but they would be risking their jobs for speaking up. I want to thank the brave whistleblowers who worked hand and hand with me to make sure no veteran would ever have to share a plate with a cockroach.”
Tori Richards at Conservative Review wrote on the issue in late April and reported that cockroaches would regularly crawl on countertops during food preparation, leading some of them to end up in patients’ food. The cockroach problem has apparently been around for years, but kitchen employees were told not to take any photos of the cockroaches.
Following awareness of the infestation, Kirk introduced the RAID Act, so as to make sure that VA facilities have to meet the same sanity standards that private sector hospital kitchens do. The bill also takes away the VA’s authority to police itself and hands that authority over to a national accreditation organization to conduct inspections on hospital kitchens and food service areas.
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