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EDITORIAL: VA hospital’s video failure

The valley’s new Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been a model of consistency — it’s had problems from the very beginning. The facility’s cost ran way over an initial estimate of $286 million to about $1 billion. Since opening in 2012 (some three years late), there have been issues with quality of care, highlighted most recently by the case of Navy veteran Sandra Niccum.

Ms. Niccum’s emergency room ordeals in October drew the attention of the House of Representatives’ Veterans Affairs Committee, leading to the launch of an inspector general’s probe into the treatment of the blind, diabetic 78-year-old. She endured a six-hour emergency room wait during an Oct. 22 visit. Her friend, Dee Redwine, documented the entire ordeal: “Several times, she would just beat (her walking cane) on the floor and say, ‘Please somebody help me.’ But they didn’t. Nobody cared.”

Ms. Niccum died Nov. 15 at a local hospice from a colon disorder.

A fine place for the inspector general’s probe to begin: the emergency room surveillance video. Except that it no longer exists. VA Southern Nevada System Director Isabel Duff provided that revelation in a 50-minute interview with the Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers, saying, “The videotapes are not available. There is an automatic deletion.”

This despite House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., stating in late November that the committee would be asking for that footage “so we can examine the sequence of events in detail.”

Perhaps the footage had already been deleted, but Rep. Miller’s statement came only a month after Ms. Niccum’s visit. It’s understandable that unlimited video storage is not practical, but it sure is curious that this particular footage no longer exists. Why are taxpayers footing the bill for these surveillance cameras in the first place, to digitally record what happens only to have the footage deleted so soon? And it’s not as if authorities were hunting for a single clip of one individual directly mistreating a patient. This was hours of an entire department ignoring an ailing woman.

Ms. Duff said Ms. Niccum’s work-up began 30 minutes after she arrived, but it was “a complicated work-up.” Ms. Duff declined to say how many hours of waiting would be reasonable before providing additional emergency room care.

Ms. Duff also said the medical center’s emergency room can’t handle the valley’s caseload and that she intends to seek funding to build a new one — at a hospital that hasn’t even been open 18 months, and at more than twice the combined cost of four private hospitals built in the valley in the past decade.

Here’s a better idea: Find a way to make this $1 billion facility work better, as is — its video surveillance system included.

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