The commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is calling for the resignation of several staff members at the acute psychiatric floor of the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Center after the floor temporarily ceased accepting new admissions July 24.
Andy Ray, commander of VFW Post 573 in Clarksburg, said some psychiatric floor staff were inadequately trained and lacking sufficient knowledge, and should thereby resign.
"They have hired people who are inadequate to treat the veterans," Ray said.
Hospital spokesperson Stan Frum said Monday Ray's request for staff resignations was "very extreme."
"When people are dying, I think that's extreme," Ray responded, saying patients had taken their lives on the psychiatric floor.
Frum said there had only been suicide attempts, none of which were successful since February 1998.
"There've been deaths in that facility," Ray said. "They won't admit to nothing."
After eight "near-misses," or suicide attempts, since February 1998, Frum said the hospital decided to build an updated psychiatric facility on the hospital's fifth floor in July 1999. The old facility on the hospital's fourth floor has physical features such as below-ceiling fire sprinklers and non-tempered glass, making suicide attempts easier, Frum said.
"This (new) ward really makes it much safer for the patients," Frum said, adding the Veterans Administration hospitals are "No. 1 in terms of patient's safety."
The hospital stopped receiving new patients on its psychiatric floor to train its staff and orient them with the new psychiatric facility, Frum said. Those already admitted to the floor on July 24 continued their care until they were ready to be discharged through "normal attritions," Frum said. The psychiatric facility is scheduled to reopen Oct. 1, Frum said.
But Ray said training the existing psychiatric staff isn't enough.
"Don't try to retrain 'em; let's try to get people who know what they are doing," Ray said.
Frum said he believed failed communication attempts may have heightened stress levels over the floor's temporary closure.
"We attempted to communicate with all the veterans in terms of their state leaders," Frum said. "Unfortunately, some organizations just had elections and the information went to the wrong (VFW) commander."
The VA hospital sent a notice to the old VFW commander and the information apparently was not passed along to the new one, Frum said. Frum said he spoke with the new state VFW commander, Don Kinard, Monday morning. Kinard could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Frum also said he contacted other fraternal organizations with veteran members such as the American Legion Home, Paralyzed Veterans Association and the Vietnam Veterans of America, in addition to the Veterans Department of Affairs, the West Virginia University School of Medicine and state governmental representatives.
But Ray said none of the fraternal organizations he talked to knew of the floor's temporary closure on Friday and the veterans were "blindsided" by what he said was a sudden closure of the floor.
"We made every attempt to tell everybody up front what we were doing," Frum said. "Unfortunately, there's always someone that falls through the cracks."
With the psychiatric floor temporarily closed, veterans can receive psychiatric care at another VA hospital in Pittsburgh or at the Chestnut Ridge Behavioral Health System facility in Morgantown, Frum said.
"It bothers me that I have to go to Pittsburgh when I have a hospital two miles away," Ray said.
In addition to his resignation request, Ray also asked for a tour of the new facility before it opens Oct. 1.
"We will do what we can to invite them over," Frum responded Monday.
The Clarksburg VA hospital discharges up to 300 patients a month who have served in the American military forces, Frum said. Up to 20 of those discharged on average per month are from the acute psychiatric floor, Frum said.
Staff writer Franny White can be reached at 626-1443.