A female patient with rape trauma spent 49 continuous hours in February strapped to a hospital bed on doctor's orders at the Albany, N.Y., medical center run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, a career VA nurse turned whistleblower told Newsmax TV
Valerie Riviello, joined by her lawyer, Cheri Cannon, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that overuse of restraints on psychiatric patients is just one sign of a "deterioration in patient care" that accompanied new management at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center.
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"In the past couple of years, we had a change in leadership and a definite change in the way patients are being treated," said Riviello. "So I couldn't remain silent. I needed to speak up for the veterans who sometimes can't speak for themselves."
Riviello, a 28-year VA nurse in Albany, is challenging a reprimand and a suspension that she said were payback for undoing the woman's restraints and, later, for taking her personnel dispute to a private lawyer.
One of dozens of VA employees
across the country who say they are targets of retaliation as whistleblowers, Riviello has been reassigned to an administrative job away from the in-patient psychiatric unit where she last worked.
Cannon said "there's absolutely no other explanation" besides reprisal for her client's treatment by superiors.
On Saturday, the New York Post
published Riviello's first-person account of conflicts with a physician over patient restraints, as well as her allegations of drug theft, supply shortages, and filthy conditions inside the Albany hospital.
Her story follows a slew of damning disclosures this year about VA medical facilities across the country: supervisors falsifying records to conceal patient backlogs so severe that veterans died waiting for appointments; and bonuses
paid to senior staff at some of those same medical centers.
Riviello described the dysfunction at her workplace as a "power struggle" between longtime caregivers and a new batch of physicians and supervisors who she said "want to do things their own way" and "don't want a nurse to hold them accountable."
She said restraints were a case in point, in which new physicians changed practices to make their own work routines easier, even when doing so harmed the patient.
"We really prided ourselves on a restraint-free environment," said Riviello. "In the last two years, with a change in physicians, we're now up to 150 hours of [patient] restraint annually."
Before that, she said, the in-patient psychiatric unit averaged just 20 hours of patient restraint time a year.
Riviello said she recognizes that restraints must sometimes be used with violent, agitated patients. But she questioned the Albany physicians' ability to make that call. She said care in general at her medical center had gone from "patient-centered" to "physician-convenient."
Asked whether she still trusts the VA as a whole, she said, "Not really."
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