Believe it or not, there is another scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. When will they ever end? The latest scandal concerns the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center in Pennsylvania when a registered nurse participated in an emergency operation despite the fact that he was drunk.
Richard Pieri, 59, a registered nurse was on call the night of February 4, 2016 when he went to the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino at about 5 p.m. and consumed four or five beers while he was playing the slot machines. Then Pieri went home to lie down. But around 11:30 p.m., Pieri received a page from the VA to return to the hospital to assist with an emergency appendectomy. Pieri told police that he had forgotten that he was on call until his pager went off.
Footage from the security cameras at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center clearly shows Pieri stumbling across the hospital parking lot on his way into surgery. According to court documents, Pieri walked with an “unsteady” gait and almost fell, as he walked into the hospital.
A Department of Veterans Affairs police detective involved in the investigation wrote that Pieri’s behavior that night, was “consistent with someone who is under the influence of a controlled substance or alcoholic beverages.”
Another nurse who worked with Pieri that night told an investigator from the Department of Veterans Affairs Police Service that Pieri was “definitely not himself.” He had trouble logging on to his computer, and he grew upset when she asked him, “Rick, are you drunk or something?”
A physician assistant, who also worked with Pieri that night, told a VA investigator that he had smelled an alcohol in the operating room, and he “concluded that the odor was likely emitted from one of the employees inside the room.”
According to the probable-cause affidavit filed with the court, “Pieri admitted that he knew he was not supposed to be a part of a surgery while he was intoxicated.” But, he “claimed he had forgotten that he was on call and he did not want to have someone else come in.”
The affidavit states that Pieri “was responsible for preparing the patient, retrieving the patient, preparing the materials inside the room, documenting the surgery, and monitoring the vitals of the patient throughout recovery.”
The affidavit also points out that the operating room “is filled with complicated equipment that Pieri needs to operate and [the operating room] has several loose wires and cords that can be tripped on or disconnected by somebody with an inability to properly ambulate themselves.”
Medical staff at the hospital told VA investigators from that “taking part in a surgery with impaired cognitive ability can create a substantial risk to the safety of the patient.”
Pieri has been charged with recklessly endangering another person, driving under the influence and public drunkenness. However, he has not been placed on administrative leave by the VA, and he continued to go to work at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center as if nothing had happened.
Situation Normal All Fouled Up
The executive assistant to the director of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, William Klaips, told reporters that patient safety was “paramount” and as soon as VA officials at the hospital were notified of the events, “we made sure there were no unsafe situations for our patients, and then we did the further investigations.” Klaips did not explain why Pieri is still being allowed to treat patients at the hospital.
Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert A. McDonald, to express his concern about the situation and to request that McDonald explain why Pieri is still reporting for work at the VA. McDonald’s answer should make interesting reading.