Providence VAMC director responds to claims of unkempt hospital

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) — Claims that the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center has issues with cleanliness are not true according to the hospital’s director, who gave Target 12 access to the facility in an effort to prove her point.

But the size of the 536,000 square foot facility limited the how much could be seen, and there were claims and counter-claims about how much cleaning was done beforehand.

The response from Susan MacKenzie followed a Target 12 report last Thursday that included several pictures from inside the medical center that serves about 35,000 veterans a year.

“Those are not the current conditions that you would see here at the medical center,” MacKenzie said. “We want veterans to know and understand how clean this facility is.”

The pictures included stained and sagging ceiling tiles, dirty floors, rodent droppings and other issues that the source of the images said made the facility “unsafe” for patients and employees.

The tour was offered Friday, the day after the news report, and a week after the photos were forwarded to the hospital from Target 12 in order to get comment about them.

“We wanted to make sure you got in here as soon as possible,” MacKenzie said as she offered to show us any area of the hospital. “We take very seriously the healthcare that we provide here.”

She said she told her staff not to do any extra cleaning in order to offer our cameras an accurate perspective.

But VAMC Public Information Officer Winfield Danielson later stated that some staff members “dry mopped” despite the director’s orders.

Staff members said through emails and phone calls to Target 12 that the hospital was cleaned “extensively” on Friday.

Our tour lasted about an hour, with MacKenzie saying even the hundreds of thousands of square feet of the hospital we didn’t see are sanitary and safe.

“We have a clean facility,” MacKenzie said.

The original building was constructed in the 1948, but there have been a number of additions since then, including one project that is underway right now.

An active federal lawsuit blames a 2014 project for causing permanent health issues for VAMC employees Dr. William S. Naughton and Maria Horridge. They allege the construction sent noxious fumes and dust into the hospital’s Podiatry Clinic.

MacKenzie said she could not comment on the lawsuit. Last week, Danielson said he could not comment on that pictures that are part of the lawsuit.

“We have environmental care rounds in place that are strictly followed,” MacKenzie said. “Any [cleanliness] issues that are found are corrected immediately. We have the highest percentage in our New England network in the VA of completing all of the open findings.”

MacKenzie also said that a VA rating system gives the hospital four out of five stars.

“And we’re almost five stars,” she said. “Before I became director [in 2013 Providence VAMC] had one star.”

Her assertions did not silence a number of critical VAMC employees who said they feared retribution from supervisors if they came forward with their claims.

MacKenzie pointed to a patient survey system that she said indicates 92 percent of the veterans who are served rate their care as satisfactory or better.

Regarding the patients who have given poor ratings, MacKenzie said she wants “to hear from them.”

“Yes I do,” she said. “They can call me.”

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