Report lists nearly 90 safety improvements for Hines VA Hospital after Mental Health Unit shut down

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone via WLS logo
Friday, July 15, 2022
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Local veterans looking for help lost their biggest resource in March when the Hines VA Hospital's Mental Health Unit shut down with no explanation.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Local veterans looking for help lost their biggest resource in March when the Hines VA Hospital's Mental Health Unit shut down with no explanation.

A recently released report, obtained by the ABC 7 I-Team, provides answers. It lists nearly 90 recommendations to improve safety for veterans and staff at Hines. Some staff members said they've complained about safety issues for more than a year and they feel management is not in a hurry to address their concerns.

"This is a very urgent situation. These are significant amounts of veterans that we are not able to get care for, or get care to," said Carolene Hill, who has worked as a Registered Nurse at Edward Hines VA.

She said the Hines Mental Health Intake Center staff is concerned that less than half the beds in the unit are available for struggling veterans.

"There is not a plan that we have been told, or that it will be open to full capacity in the near future. You can imagine that, with that amount of veterans not receiving care, the impact on the veteran themselves and also on their families," she said.

The Mental Health Unit was shut down in March for review.

RELATED: Hines VA hospital shuts down inpatient mental health unit; VA secretary addresses concerns

The ABC 7 I-Team received a report by leaders of the VA Great Lakes Health Care System, released last week, in which investigators say that they found "significant concerns" and no "clear processes in place to ensure safe quality care available daily."

The assessment has 87 recommendations to improve care and safety for staff and veterans, including adding alarms, training for mock psychiatric emergencies, adding padding to seclusion room, limiting access of silverware for high risk vets, conducting drills of behaviors and other emergencies and training staff on safety checks, missing patients and door alarm checks.

While the report states they found no harm had come to any veterans it also says there wasn't a sense of urgency from facility leadership to follow through on the significant findings to prevent potential harm.

"We're seeing short staffing," said Hill. "We're seeing workplace violence with verbal and physical abuse against nurses. We're seeing safety concerns for veterans and for nurses. The alarm has been sounded. 2:00 there needs to be a sense of urgency."

Hill said nurses at Hines have "sounded the alarm" about the same problems found in the report, for more than a year. She said there needs to be a coordinated plan with staff, to quickly fix these issues. She said Hines management has not yet spoken to staff about the report.

Hines told the I-Team in a statement, "While Hines VA projected to reopen the 2 South mental health unit in April 2022, it was never intended to reopen at full capacity. We adopted a phased approach to give the inpatient mental health unit appropriate time to continue implementing recently suggested safety measures, while operating in the safest manner possible for our Veterans. The safety of our nation's heroes has always and will continue to be our utmost priority. Hines VA's goal for inpatient mental health services is to sustain all improvements made going forward. While operating at a reduced-bed status, we currently have 12 beds open."

"It's not enough just to have a report we need action from leadership and we need for them to prioritize the action. We need a sense of urgency in implementing those actions," said Hill. "That is what will fix the problem."

Hines VA also said they continue to provide veterans mental health care and work with other local area VA medical facilities to ensure any veteran needing mental health care receives it.