The Washington Post

Mold prompts relocations at VA medical center

More than 175 patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., have been displaced after tests showed the presence of mold in many of the rooms where they were housed.

The mold was discovered Thursday in the fan coils of air-conditioning units in the center’s domiciliary unit, and patients were moved out Friday, the VA said. Many are being housed in Martinsburg area hotels during clean-up efforts, which the VA said will take two months.

In a statement, the VA described the health risk from the mold as “very low.”

“The safety of our veterans, visitors and staff is paramount in all that we do,” Jonathan Fierer, chief of staff of the facility, said in a statement. “Although the health risks from this type of mold exposure are very low, the medical center leadership felt the best course of action was to move all domiciliary patients until the remediation process is complete.”

Many of the patients residing at the domiciliary unit are enrolled in programs treating substance abuse, homelessness and mental health disorders, according to veterans at the facility.

“We’ve been treated like second-class citizens,” said Dwight Long, a Navy veteran who said he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The vets feel like we do,” said a medical center employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for job retaliation. “Something should have been done about this long ago.”

Several of the patients have been treated for respiratory ailments that may be related to the mold, according to the VA employee and residents. A female patient complained several times about mold in her room before it was inspected, they said. “That’s what finally got the ball rolling,” the employee said.

VA officials in Washington and Martinsburg did not respond to several requests for comment on the assertion or answer other questions about the mold.

An investigation released in 2008 by the VA Office of Inspector General found widepsread mold in “multiple locations” around the Martinsburg medical center, including a kitchen used by surgery teams.

The VA said in its prepared statement that the mold found last week in the domiciliary facility’s air-conditioning units are stand-alone and not connected to other buildings on the campus, including the 69-bed hospital.

The displaced patients were initially put up in cots in the medical center and told that the problem would be resolved over the weekend, several veterans said in interviews. On Monday, they learned they would be displaced for two months.

“Some people have said the heck with it and just left,” said Paul Wait, a patient at the facility.

“All of a sudden they’re being uprooted, and they were here for mental-health treatment,” said Ronald Wimberly, an Army veteran being treated at the center.

Ann R. Brown, the medical center’s director, said in the statement that patient care and daily operations at the medical center would not be interrupted.

“We are making every effort to ensure this process is as smooth and expeditious as possible, so that our veterans can move back into their rooms as quickly as possible,” she said.

The Martinsburg facility provides care to veterans in West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and southeastern Pennsylvania.

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