Tales of Veterans Affairs hospital whistle-blowers are mounting and the story of an Albany nurse is becoming depressingly familiar. One of the worst aspects of this tale, despite how this nurse was treated after becoming a whistle-blower, was the allegation that sick soldiers were given a salt water mixture instead of the morphine they needed for their pain.
Valerie Riviello, a 28-year nursing veteran, was a nurse manager at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, but after she complained about how a patient was being treated, she found herself on the receiving end of a career stall, the sudden end of her managerial position, and a loss of income.
At one point in 2013 Riviello had filed a complaint on how a rape victim who was somewhat unstable was being treated. The veteran was being restrained to her bed for far longer than regulations demanded and Riviello took it upon herself to free the woman, bathe her, and make her comfortable. The patient appeared to appreciate the attention and did not act out at all afterward.
But even though her supervisor said her actions were OK, Riviello alleges that she began to experience a series of moves against her by her superiors.
Despite assurances, Riviello was told she must step down as nurse manager and tell her junior nurses that it was all her idea. She was then told she would lose the extra $6,000 a year that goes with the position. Then she was barred from working with patients and put on a desk job. Next she was set up for failure by being given the task of developing a nurse training program, something that is usually done by a committee.
The nurse also reports that her key card mysteriously stopped working, then she began to have trouble with her paycheck, she was marked absent without a reason even though she had turned in a doctor’s note, and her company phone was abruptly turned off.
“I did nothing wrong. I gave the patient really good care,” Riviello told the media. “I wasn’t going to slink away to have this happen to me at the end of my career.”
If what happened to nurse Riviello wasn’t bad enough, what she says she heard from other VA employees is infuriating.
Riviello said that she was told of “dying patients who were supposed to receive morphine to alleviate pain, but instead got a salt-and-water mixture.” This occurred, Riviello said, because the nurse treating the patients was stealing their morphine.
Managers then delayed reporting the problem, the nurse said. Peter Potter, a spokesman for the Albany VA, would not comment to the media, but did confirm that the incident is under investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General.
Each week it seems another bad report comes out about the VA. The department recently had to admit that it secretly settled 1,000 wrongful death suits over the last decade, costing the department some $200 million.
Even the White House found a “corrosive culture” at the VA in a report that admitted to a culture of abuse and advised that the administration undergo an overhaul.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.