The Memphis VA Medical Center (VAMC) allegedly refused to isolate staff who came into contact with another staffer who tested positive for coronavirus, putting employees and patients at risk, according to a new complaint.
A Memphis VAMC employee tested positive, according to the complaint filed March 20 with the Joint Commission, and two other employees who worked with the one who tested positive were not sent home but rather told to wear a mask while working.
“The Memphis VA Medical Center had an Employee (female Nurse) who tested positive for the coronavirus on 20 Mar 2020. She worked in the Orthopedic section of the VA Memphis.” the complaint stated. “Employee Health supervisor (Rayleen Roberts) notified the infected VA Memphis employee that she had tested positive on Friday Mar. 20 2020 and told her to stay home also, that she had begun to show symptoms. From ’16 – ’19 Mar 2020 3 other employees, two females and one male, who had worked closely with the infected employee were notified on 20 Mar 2020 that they were exposed to someone who had tested positive for the Coronavirus. They were given a masked and returned to duty by Employee Health Supervisor Rayleen Roberts.” (RELATED: Memphis VA Hospital Remains Troubled, Despite Secretary’s Assurance It Has ‘Turned A Corner’)
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pushed back on the allegation in a statement to the Caller.
“These allegations are false to the point where sharing them with your readers would be irresponsible. Here are the facts: Two Memphis VAMC employees have tested positive for COVID-19. In accordance with CDC guidelines and the employees’ status, the individuals are currently in home isolation, mitigating further risk of transmission to other patients and staff.
Due to privacy concerns, we cannot provide additional information.”
The VA’s statement appears to contradict what VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci stated in a March 23 article for the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). (RELATED: The VA’s Whistleblower Protection Unit Instead Created A ‘Hit List’ Of Whistleblowers)
In that article, Mandreucci stated that VA policy is that staff should continue to work if they had been, “exposed to a COVID-19 patient as long as they are asymptomatic, using personal protective equipment and have been cleared to work by their occupational health department.”
An entrance to the Memphis VAMC was backed up March 23 as each employee had their temperature tested.
“The Memphis VA Medical Center is pre-screening all who enter our campuses,” The hospital acknowledged this in a statement, “This may lengthen entry times, so patients are advised to allow for that when arriving for their appointments.”
The line, however, only appeared on Monday.
Winnie Wright, of Fox 13 in Memphis, also noted the line Monday in a tweet
Yesterday the hospital had employees lined up to be screened before coming in.
I asked when cases were confirmed, but was told due to privacy concerns they won’t be sharing any more info. pic.twitter.com/sQgtxmf4wV
— Winnie Wright (@WinnieWrightTV) March 25, 2020
Wright posted a previous story March 11 in which the Memphis VAMC would only confirm that a patient was being monitored, but would not confirm had yet tested positive.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told The Daily Caller that the CDC in such a case only provides guidelines.
“CDC provides general guidelines but it’s up to the states and local hospitals to establish their own protocols,” the CDC stated in an email to the Caller.
The CDC’s guidelines are found here.
The VA described their protocols in their statement.
“Per CDC guidance and VA protocols, individuals known to be at risk for a COVID-19 infection are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others,” the VA noted in their statement.
Besides receiving the complaint to the Joint Commission, the Caller spoke with a Memphis VAMC employee who was on a call when employees were told that those exposed would continue working while wearing masks.
The employee declined to be named for fear of reprisal.
Sean Higgins, a Memphis VAMC whistleblower and former employee who filed the complaint, was on the same call as the Memphis employee who discussed the matter with the Caller.