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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Investigation discovers staff ignored hole in roof for years at VA hospital in Spokane

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ frustrated attempts to secure changes for veterans’ care in Spokane just fell through the roof.

Based on complaints funneled through a group of veterans who have protested for a year about the lack of cooperation from the staff at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, McMorris Rodgers asked for staff from the House Veterans Affairs Committee to come to Spokane in June and investigate conditions at the hospital. Among the problems they discovered: a hole in the roof.

The hole apparently has been leaking water for about five years. McMorris Rodgers said VA staff has known about the problem, evidenced by the fact that someone had built a rectangular funnel to catch water dripping through the roof. The funnel channels water through a hose into a metal bucket.

But the make-shift-leak-management system is located only feet from hospital’s large electrical panel that fuels power to the entire facility, she said.

“Just how unbelievable it was to learn we had a leaking roof,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And it’s been going on for years and hasn’t been addressed.”

Lily Haken, executive assistant to the director at Mann-Grandstaff, said safety for veterans and employees is “our highest priority.”

She did not respond to questions as to why the hole has remained unfixed for years.

“We are aware of this issue and have an action plan in place to fix the roof,” she wrote. “We are monitoring it closely and can ensure that it is not impacting patient safety.”

The leaking roof is just the latest of a series of issues that McMorris Rodgers said she has been pushing to fix. Earlier this year, her efforts to re-open an exercise room that some veterans had been using for continuing care and exercise were rebuffed by Administrator Ron Johnson. He recently moved to a different facility in Hampton, Virginia.

Asked if she was frustrated by her dealings with VA officials, McMorris Rodgers answered: “Absolutely. I’ve been told it’s funding. ‘We need more money,’” she said. “But as a representative for this district, I know I have voted to increase the budget every year for the VA.”

She said in years past she was personally told by Johnson, who recently was replaced by interim director Tracye Davis from Portland, that the local facility had millions of unused funding left over at the end of the year. Johnson said the extra money would be used to purchase prescriptions for veterans, she said.

“It begs the question: Why weren’t you fixing the roof?” McMorris Rodgers said. “There are a lot of great employees. And I often hear that veterans, when they get to the providers, are pleased to get the care they receive.

“But, it’s too difficult to get the care they need. We want the VA to be the center of excellence. Unfortunately, too many times I see veterans getting lost in the system.”

Charles Bourg, of Chewelah, is one of the veterans who have been picketing the front of the hospital since last August. He said he appreciates the work of staffers from McMorris Rodgers and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray to try to force changes.

“We are grateful they are helping us,” Bourg said. “Most of the employees are telling us not to quit and that they are supporting us.”

But the veterans often hear talk of changes without seeing any. Just this week Bourg said he called to get in to see his doctor. He was told the earliest available appointment is Oct. 5.

McMorris Rodgers said she recently sat down with Davis, the interim director, who seemed to be willing to improve conditions.

“I know as soon as we discovered that the roof was leaking, we immediately went to work to get the money to get it fixed,” she said.

The hole is scheduled to be fixed sometime by the end of the year.