State News

July 11, 2013

Atlanta VA director: Changes underway after audit

ATLANTA — The Atlanta VA Medical Center has begun tracking mental health patients referred to outside facilities and taken other steps to address problems outlined by federal auditors earlier this year, the hospital’s new director said Thursday.

Among other things, the center plans to place VA-licensed social workers at contracted facilities, Director Leslie Wiggins said.

Wiggins, who previously was VA center’s deputy assistant secretary, met with reporters to explain how the facility is increasing accountability and transparency following allegations of mismanagement and poor patient care in connection with three deaths at the Atlanta facility.

An Inspector General’s audit in mid-April said one patient in need of mental health care had committed suicide and two others who needed care died of drug overdoses.

Another death recently came to light from last year. A veteran being treated for depression and anxiety committed suicide after being discharged.

“Veterans can be assured of our ongoing commitment to provide high-quality care,” Wiggins said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General reported in April that the facility struggled with poor patient safety, inadequate patient monitoring and unsatisfactory policies for dealing with contraband, drug tests and visitation. Investigators connected additional deaths with the center’s lack of patient follow-through in its mental health referral program.

“What we are doing now is very carefully making sure that we have put in place enough of those standards,” Wiggins said. “We are paying a lot of attention to what was pointed out to us by the external bodies.”

Federal officials told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last month that two unnamed employees at the Atlanta facility were reprimanded on April 25 as a result of the critical audit reports. Wiggins said she couldn’t comment on any disciplinary matters.

Wiggins said the medical center, which provides care to nearly 89,000 veterans, has hired 17 new mental health staffers, reduced patient wait times and improved access for veterans seeking mental health services. The hospital’s long-term plan involves expanding mental health outpatient services at its Fort McPherson facility later this summer and opening a new outpatient clinic with mental health services in Oakwood, Ga., in early September.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released a letter to President Barack Obama calling for his help in addressing patient-care issues at VA medical centers nationwide.

“Unfortunately, department officials seem more intent on issuing bureaucratic slaps on the wrist than the sort of serious punishments required to send a message that substandard care for veterans will not be tolerated,” the Republican congressman said in the statement.

In June, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson asked the Senate VA Committee to hold a field hearing in Atlanta in August to address the two federal audits.


Text Only
State News
  • One charged in death of Dalton woman, another sought

    A Dalton woman found dead in Calhoun earlier this month is believed to have died of a drug overdose after two Calhoun residents abandoned her in a car behind the VFW on East Line Street, Lt. Tony Pyle with the Calhoun Police Department said Wednesday afternoon.

    June 18, 2014

  • Guard shot at FedEx center to undergo 14th surgery

    A security guard critically wounded when a gunman went on a rampage at a FedEx facility is scheduled to undergo his 14th operation Tuesday.

    May 27, 2014

  • Arson ruled out as cause of chemical plant fire

    Police say investigators have been able to rule out arson or foul play as the cause of a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles.

    May 27, 2014

  • Teen tied to shopping cart drowns in lake

    Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials say a teen has died after being tied to a shopping cart and pushed into Lake Allatoona.

    May 25, 2014

  • Underground tattoo artists frustrate officials

    The work of tattoo artists whose living rooms double as body art studios might come cheap, but experts say the unsterile -- and illegal -- work environments could leave clients in pain long after the initial sting of the needle subsides.

    May 25, 2014

  • No runoff lets Republicans focus on Rep. Barrow

    While Georgia Republicans have to wait until July to settle runoff races for the U.S. Senate and three open House seats, one of the biggest GOP victories in the primary elections last week went to Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen.

    May 25, 2014

  • Audit probes juvenile justice turnover rate

    A state audit cites low pay, long hours and management concerns as reasons for a relatively high turnover rate at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    May 25, 2014

  • Atlanta schools ex-tech director to be sentenced

    After his relationship with the superintendent of Atlanta’s school system soured, a former technology director for the district set up a kickback scheme to pad his pockets before he left his job, according to court documents.

    May 24, 2014

  • Georgia veteran, 92, honored at surprise ceremony

    Family and friends surprised a 92-year-old World War II veteran from Georgia on Memorial Day by honoring him and presenting him with the World War II Victory Medal.

    May 24, 2014

  • Police: Massive chemical plant fire extinguished

    Authorities say a massive fire at a chemical plant outside Atlanta that spewed black smoke and flames visible for miles has been extinguished.

    May 24, 2014