Special Counsel – VA Hospital Exposed Staff to Asbestos
The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel announced earlier this week that the Management of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts knew for years that there was an asbestos contamination problem at the facility yet kept the information concealed.
In a letter penned to the President as well as to members of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote that multiple buildings at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital were contaminated with asbestos and that management had known about the problem since 2014, keeping it secret despite the dangers the toxin posed to those who worked or were hospitalized there.
“For years, the Bedford VA Medical Center failed to implement a robust safety inspection program to identify contaminated work spaces,” Kerner said in a statement to the media.
If it hadn’t been for the whistleblowers that alerted the Special Counsel about the issue, it’s likely it would still be a secret. However, after the reports by the concerned employees, the VA Office of Occupational Safety and Health launched an investigation of the Bedford facility.
What they found was alarming, reports the newspaper Stars and Stripes.
They located many instances where workers were made to risk exposure to airborne asbestos particles, though these situations could have been remedied with better management practices, the investigative report noted.
However, the VA maintains that the management did not break any laws, despite the findings of the OSHA inspections.
“VA believes that the findings do not show evidence that the medical center or its employees engaged in gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority,” the VA report states. “There was no indication of willful intent to harm workers or violate standards, rule or law,” the agency said in a recently released statement.
Thankfully, given the recent report, the VA is now taking the proverbial bull by the horns and making an effort to fix the problems, Kerner reports. A new permanent director for the hospital has now been appointed and she aims to implement recommendations made by OSHA in regards to the handling and identification of asbestos in the facility.
“The facility is now taking this problem seriously, monitoring employee health and carrying out more fulsome measures to ensure safety for employees and veterans,” Kerner stressed, adding that he was pleased that there was now a permanent director for the hospital.