VA Union says staffing issues compromising patient safety: Part II

A lawsuit against the Amarillo VA is being heard by the courts because of alleged retaliation against VA nurses following their complaints to upper management about unsafe conditions for patients.

While the Amarillo VA said they have an open door policy, the nurseâ??s union has taken their case to the courts because they claim management isnâ??t listening to their concerns. The National Federation of Federal Employees provided documentation to Pronews 7 that outlines how local union members are working in a hostile environment and how ongoing staffing issues may be compromising patient safety.

The nursesâ?? union at the Amarillo VA said understaffing is a chronic problem, and they provided ample documentation to Pronews 7 to substantiate this claim. They said that cases like Lina Smithâ??s, whose husband died while under VA care, are far too common. According to Ms. Smith, the bottom line is there were simply not enough nurses on the floor.

â??You think that theyâ??re there to do a job you know and I guess they are, but there are not enough nurses to go around,â?? said Lina Smith, the widow of Jimmy Smith. â??Iâ??ve heard horrible stories, like I say; if you want to die go to the VA.â??

According to the documentation provided to Pronews 7, when nurses attempted to point out that staffing issues were affecting patient care, they were retaliated against. They claimed some nurses were chased out, or even dismissed.

â??The actual attitude of management towards employees would have to change because the morale is terrible right now at the VA, and it didnâ??t used to be that way three years ago,â?? said James Davis, a member of the Amarillo VA Nursesâ?? Union. â??It was a wonderful place to work and now the employees are afraid of losing their jobs for small minor infractions.â??

Deb Buntzen, an active member of the Amarillo VA community, was surprised at the allegations.

â??I have not had any recent contact of anything negative at the VA, things have been positive,â?? said Deb Butzen, who is both a patient and a volunteer

The Amarillo VA was very cooperative with Pronews 7 for this story, and they claimed that they promote a culture of transparency all around.

â??We very much have an open door policy here at the Amarillo VA, and any concern is welcome,â?? said Patrick Hutchinson, an Amarillo VA Spokesperson. â??Anytime there is an issue; we want to handle it as quickly as possible.â?? We have worked so long to establish a culture of good quality and safe care.â??

The nursesâ?? union claimed that they live in a culture of fear, because of an exception to their rights as federal employees, known as section 7422 that is written into labor law. They said most federal employees donâ??t face this exception, and enjoy much stronger labor rights.

â??By repealing 7422, that would make for a safer workplace for the employees and in turn a better place for veterans to receive care,â?? said Drew Halunen a spokesperson for the National Federation of Federal Employees .

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, James Davis said itâ??s all about improving care for veterans.

â??Hopefully things will change now that itâ??s being draw to the publicâ??s attention because our vets deserve better care, because theyâ??re our granddads, our fathers, our brothers, our nephews,â?? said James Davis. â??They deserve better care.â??

Many nurses were reluctant to talk to Pronews 7 on camera because of fear of retaliation and losing their jobs. The VA said that their mission is very important to the employees as roughly a third of them are veterans.