Kansas City, Mo. Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi apologized to Kansas City veterans Wednesday, while 23 inspectors swarmed through a hospital where maggots once infested the noses of two comatose patients.
Inspectors who arrived Sunday found mouse droppings and dead flies at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, said Assistant Inspector General Michael Slachta. "The hospital is dirty," he said.
A March 25 report in the Archives of Internal Medicine said maggots infested the nostrils of two patients in 1998, about the same time that mice were so common in the hospital that some nurses cared for them as pets.
Principi ordered the new inspection after VA inspectors who visited in June 2001 found ongoing pest problems, among other issues. That report was released in January. On March 28 three days after the medical journal maggot report Principi temporarily reassigned VA Regional Health Care Director Patricia Crosetti and her deputy, Matt Kelly, to Washington.
On Wednesday, Principi insisted the reassignments and new inspection were a response to the January VA report not the publicity that began last week.
Principi apologized to veterans if the hospital didn't meet their standards.
"There is no excuse for an unclean facility," he said.
The medical journal article, written by a former Kansas City VA doctor, suggested that the rodent problem was a result of cuts to the housekeeping staff. Principi disputed that, saying the hospital has enough money.
"This is a leadership and management issue," he said.
Hospital officials have said the problem has been fixed and that the facility scored 99 out of 100 during an October 2001 inspection by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations.
However, portions of a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press describe conditions found just seven months earlier, during the hospital's own inspection. The report cites a half-dozen signs of mouse infestation in the kitchen, including droppings in the dishwashing, cooking, serving and grill area and evidence of a possible mouse nest in a serving area.
The January inspector general's report also found that the hospital took an average of six months to bill patients and insurance companies, and often didn't follow up when a bill was not paid. The hospital had a billing backlog of $2.7 million for one six-month period, the report said.
U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy, D-Mo., has called for an independent inquiry into the hospital. Principi said he wouldn't oppose such a review, but said his Inspector General is independent and would issue a "hard-hitting report."
Slachta said he cannot recall another time so many inspectors were assigned to one hospital.