Bay Pines staff moved the dead veteran’s body to a hall, then to a shower. They left him there for over nine hours. Then the employees allegedly fudged the incident report.
The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Seminole, Florida is a veterans hospital where former service members can obtain a range of services from mental health treatment to end-of-life care. But when one unnamed veteran died in hospice care last February, staff allegedly left the body in a shower unit, according to an internal report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. The dead veteran allegedly went forgotten while employees passed the blame and filled out inaccurate paperwork to cover their tracks.
The hospital “demonstrated a lack of concern, attention and respect” for the deceased veteran, the internal report reads.
After the veteran passed away, employees made some initial efforts to remove his body in a dignified way, according to the Times. Hospice-care workers reportedly asked a coworker to take the body to the morgue, where it could be properly cared for. But they’d asked the wrong person. The coworker told them to follow official procedure and contact morgue dispatchers.
But apparently the call never went out, and the dispatchers never came. Eventually, someone moved the veteran’s body from the room and placed it in a hallway. After staff ruled the hallway an inappropriate place for a body, it was moved it again, this time to a shower unit, where it sat for over nine hours.
Left exposed after death, the human body is more susceptible to deterioration, which begins within hours. The veteran’s prolonged neglect in a shower room put the body at “increased risk of decomposition,” the internal report notes.
Meanwhile, the hospital’s safety procedures were apparently exhibiting their own kind of decay. Multiple protocols had to be ignored in order to abandon the veteran in the shower.
From the beginning of the incident, it was unclear who was in charge. According to the report, hospital staff failed to update a chart showing employees’ hours and roles, sowing confusion in the unit. After the veteran’s death, employees allegedly "falsely documented" paperwork, blaming the lack of morgue dispatchers on a miscommunication. But the communication had never taken place, as employees allegedly neglected to call the dispatchers to remove the body.
These errors might have become immediately apparent at the end of the day, when employees were required to fill out a report of the past 24 hours. But they skipped the paperwork, making it unclear how or when they had responded to the veteran’s death. Later, during the internal investigation, the employees reportedly characterized the reports as a clerical error, pinning the blame on shortage of office staff. They later walked back the excuse.
The hospital has described the neglect as a one-time incident.
"We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit," Bay Pines spokesperson Jason Dangel told the Tampa Bay Times. "It is our expectation that each veteran is transported to their final resting place in the timely, respectful and honorable manner. America's heroes deserve nothing less."
The hospital has since required new training, particularly on post-mortem care he said. But he did not disclose whether any employees had been disciplined.
Local Republican legislators have cited the incident as a case of neglect in Veterans Affairs-run facilities.
“I am deeply disturbed by the incident that occurred at the Bay Pines VA hospital, and even more distressed to learn that staff attempted to cover it up,” GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis said in a statement. Bilirakis has supported legislation to make it easier to fire VA employees. “The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.
“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran. The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”