Alleged toxic condition at Providence VA blamed for health problems

The VAMC director is confident about hospital's quality of care.
The VAMC director is confident about hospital's quality of care.

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — A federal lawsuit filed by a Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center doctor alleges “unsanitary and harmful” conditions that included mold, mice and toxic fumes in the hospital left him permanently injured, and allegedly put doctors, technicians and patients in danger.

The 2013 complaint has been inching through the federal court system with close to 90 filings to date, including one just last week.

Dr. William S. Naughton, who also has a podiatry practice in Warwick, filed the lawsuit along with technician Maria Horridge, claiming a $12 million construction project that was completed in 2014 sent damaging, noxious fumes and dust into the VAMC Podiatry Clinic.

The lawsuit alleges complaints to hospital administrators in 2012 about fumes, headaches and nose bleeds were ignored. Money was said to be the motive to keep the clinic going despite a recommendation to shut it down until it could be moved.

According to the document, a VAMC employee stated the hospital administration at the time of the project did not want to stall the financial impact of the busy clinic.

“The administration wanted the clinic to continue generating revenue,” the lawsuit indicated. “The revenue fueled the bonuses of the hospital administrators.”

In its answer to the complaint, the VA denied those claims.

The lawsuit said the situation “worsened” as time went on, with the project causing “large amounts of dust” and more toxic fumes to spew into an area of that also had issues with mold, mice and worse, according to the lawsuit.

“Blood and portions of human tissue remained on the floor and equipment for days if not longer,” the lawsuit stated.

Along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, contractors Gilbane Building Company and Legion Construction are named in the lawsuit, and M. Disandro and Sons Masonry is posted as a third-party defendant.

The attorneys for the contractors chose not to comment, and the attorney for the plaintiffs made the same decision.

Providence VAMC Public Affairs Officer Winfield Danielson would not comment on the specifics but said in a statement, “We conduct a risk assessment for every construction project, evaluating it for infection control, and other health and safety factors.”

Danielson said measures are instituted when required.

“I want to emphasize that the health and safety of our Veterans and staff is our foremost concern,” Danielson said. “[That] directly affects our mission of providing exceptional and accessible care for Veterans.”

An email that is one of the exhibits in the case indicated VAMC Infection Preventionist Maria Trice inspected the rooms in the clinic and informed Clinic Podiatrist Dr. John Simoes about her concerns.

Trice told Dr Simoes she was worried about “infection control” in the podiatry facility.

“We have asked that the Podiatry clinic be moved ASAP,” Trice wrote. “Or if no space is found, to shut down the clinic until adequate space is found.”

According to the plaintiffs, the clinic was not moved as the construction project continued.

The lawsuit stated the “substance in the air caused one physician to bleed readily from his nose,” with others in the clinic suffering from headaches, metallic tastes in their mouths and burning eyes.

Dr. Naughton claims he now suffers from “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” that another doctor said could be permanent.

Horridge also has “suffered permanent disability and other harm” according to the lawsuit, which indicated the plaintiffs are seeking damages “exceeding” $400,000. A source close to the case said the plaintiffs are asking for more than one million dollars.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau