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Relatives describe pattern of negligence at St. Louis Veterans Home

Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington shares his concerns as his wife, Sandra, holds a microphone at an event, October 2017.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington, who served during the Korean War, shares his concerns. His wife Sandra holds the microphone.

This story has been updated.

Missed medications. Falsified records. A veteran with dementia placed in a scalding hot shower, unable to move.

One by one, concerned family members and employees of the St. Louis Veterans Home — some angry, others in tears — took to a microphone at North Kirkwood Middle School late Monday. They alleged that the 300-bed facility in north St. Louis County is so mismanaged that its care of aging residents amounts to neglect. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are particularly vulnerable, they said.  

James Luebbert of St. Louis, whose father died just a month after moving into the facility this past summer, is convinced that improper care at the Veteran’s Home shortened his life.

“For two days they had him sitting in a recliner with no water in reach, when he’s unable to lift a mug of water and bring it to his mouth,” Luebbert said. “Our plea is for this system to get fixed for future vets and families at this facility.”

When he filed a complaint with the state, Luebbert said, he found that a member of the Missouri Veterans Commission was in charge of the investigation.

“It’s a biased investigation and I didn’t feel comfortable with all that,” Luebbert said.

St. Louis Veteran’s Home administrator Rolando Carter responded to the allegations by phone on Tuesday. He said that he met with several families in May, and addressed their concerns. Though Carter said he could not speak to individual cases, he said that in some cases, bed sores or dehydration may be an unavoidable situation. He added that a temporary staffing plan that was implemented earlier this year proved not to be ideal, and the facility will go back to the old model in the coming days. But he said that 95 percent of positions are filled, and that short staffing is not an issue.

A recent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs survey also found the facility in compliance with all federal standards. 

“When you have these embellished accusations, they’re very taxing on anyone,” Carter said, pointing to the survey. “That’s our validation there. Because those are the experts.” 

At the public meeting, organizers distributed packets of letters from the families of eight patients, several employees and volunteers. The packet, they said, has been shared with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

“We have discovered a pattern of mistreatment, abuse and neglect that is shocking,” said Rick Stream, a former Missouri state representative who gathered the testimony with Dory Poholsky, who was tipped off to the conditions in the veteran's home by a friend staying there. 

One letter, submitted by the home’s former medical director, Dr. Naveed Razzaque, called for a state investigation of the safety and quality of care for veterans with dementia at St. Louis Veterans Home. Among his concerns is the overuse of anti-psychotic medications to control residents, despite the risk for serious side effects such as strokes and falls. But the internist said that when he proposed changes to the facility’s leadership and the Missouri Veterans Commission, they were dismissed. 

“Based on the lack of follow-through to my suggestions that would benefit the veterans, it appeared to me that the Commission had no interest in quality improvement suggestions and may have felt they were more of a criticism than an opportunity for improvement,” Razzaque wrote.

Members of the Veterans Commission, and the office of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens did not return a request for comment. 

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.  

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