Salem VA Medical Center issued 'serious' violations

Under investigation for a second time this year by OSHA

By Jenna Zibton - Anchor

SALEM, Va. - Life-threatening work hazards at the Salem VA Medical Center.  The Salem VA Medical Center is under investigation by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a second time this year.

Our years of investigations in the medical center show a continued pattern of complaints that aren't fixed until people working there blow the whistle.

OSHA investigators spent several days at the Salem VA Medical Center in May.

Last month, they issued five serious violations that they say could result death or serious harm.

Exit doors not marked correctly, doors that don't swing the right way and electrical hazards.

According to OSHA, multiple employees made complaints about the medical center, and an OSHA compliance officer was sent to investigate.

According to OSHA documents they found:

-Four buildings where doors didn't swing the right way, leading to the outside. These are buildings that house the Women's Health Clinic, Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

-Another building didn't have an exit marked correctly.

-Other buildings have hazardous conditions, with concrete steps that are broken.

-The last violations are for electrical hazards that could lead to fires or electrical shock.

We took these violations to the Roanoke Deputy Fire Marshal Ronnie Campbell who pointed to the Station Night Club fire in 2003, where dozens of people died because of the exits.

"You see people bottleneck up at the door and a lot of times that's where people perish because maybe an inward opening door or just so many people merging at that exit at one time. It just piles the exit up," said Campbell.

We obtained an email sent by VA Medical Center director Rebecca Stackhouse to all employees that says "...we had a visit from OSHA related to a concern which had been raised in 2014 regarding some door closures and attic stairs. We fully acknowledge that although we had a good plan in place for correction, the corrections to the doors were not completed fully."

The email goes on to say, "With your help in reporting issues to your supervisor and with the continued support... We can ensure open communication lines are maintained about projects and other concerns as presented by staff. We can also ensure that items do not fall through the cracks."

But other concerns raised earlier this year have fallen through the cracks.

A separate investigation 10 News told you about had OSHA involved after complaints of mold and two employees reporting health issues. OSHA issued serious violations after an employee didn't get anywhere with their complaint to the Salem VA.

"Our perspective is management was made aware of it some time ago and there should have been some action taken to fix the situation long before it got to the point that one of the employees had to file a complaint with federal OSHA," said OSHA area director Stan Dutko in April in an interview with WSLS 10.

Those mold violations have since been fixed.

As for the recent violations, we took our findings to the president of the union representing about 90 percent of Salem VA employees, Anita Campbell, who walked around with OSHA when they visited.

Campbell says she thinks the VA is trying.

"It's not going to happen today, it may not happen tomorrow," said Campbell. "The government is a little on the slow side as we all know so it takes a process."

The Salem VA and OSHA had a meeting this week to talk about the violations.

We contacted the Salem VA but no one would appear on camera.

The Salem VA sent us a statement saying in part quote "We recognize that it did take longer than appropriate to correct the progress of these findings due to staff turnover and transition. We are implementing an electronic tracking log to prevent this from occurring in the future."

The Salem VA sent us pictures showing some of the items were fixed but they are waiting on a custom door for one exit.

The stairs had some repairs but not all because they can't reconstruct stairs in buildings from the 30s and 40s so they put up warning signs.

The Salem VA says they are looking and doors and exits across the campus to see if other fixes need to be made and also doing hazard training with staff.

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