ATLANTA - "Overwhelmed, overwhelmed."
That's how Laquna Ross told Channel 2 Action News she felt after she found her dad with swollen, red bumps all over his body and his hands swollen when she visited him last week before his death at the Eagle's Nest Community Living Center, a nursing home for veterans on the Atlanta VA Medical Center campus.
Ross said she was "worried and confused because that wasn't how he looked when I saw him the last time."
Ross' father, Joel Marrable, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. The woman said her father was already in poor health.
"Yes, he had cancer. Yes, he was going to die," she said.
Ross said when she asked a center staffer about all the bumps, the staffer told her it was because of ants. Marrable was bitten more than 100 times, according to Ross.
"His room had ants, the ceiling, the walls, the beds. They were everywhere," Ross said. "The staff member says to me, ‘When we walked in here, we thought Mr. Marrable was dead. We thought he wasn't even alive, because the ants were all over him.'"
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Ross described how center workers bathed Marrable and cleaned his room but said the next day, they had an issue with the ants again.
Marrable got moved to a new room, where Ross said he later died.
"If it didn't promote his body to die quicker, what is the protocol within the VA just to manage when something like this happens?" Ross said.
And while Ross is still waiting for those answers, the one thing she knows for sure: "He served his country in the Air Force, and I think that he deserved better."
The VA sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement:
The Atlanta VA Health Care System leadership team has been notified that ants were found in our Community Living Center and impacting patients. CLC staff immediately cared for the Veterans and took action to ensure no other CLC residents were impacted. We would like to express our heartfelt remorse and apology to the Veterans' families and have reached out to them to offer appropriate assistance.
The following actions have been taken to address the ant issue at the CLC:
All bedrooms have been stripped, inspected for ants, and cleaned by Environmental Management Services
All open containers and open food have been removed from all bedrooms
The Chief Geriatrics Nurse is working with Voluntary Services to obtain plastic containers to assist the residents with sealing their snacks for storage in the bedrooms
The CLC staff is conducting additional visits specifically inspecting for insects and ants
The EMS Pest Control continues to treat and monitor all CLC rooms daily to ensure no negative impact to patient care
A private pest control company conducted an independent assessment on Sep 9
A regional VA pest control expert will conduct a site visit to assess the CLC ant issue by Sep 13
Atlanta VA Health Care System always strives to provide Veterans with the very best health care available. When we don't meet that standard, we hold ourselves accountable. That's why we have initiated a fact finding on the nursing and environmental care processes to ensure we are providing safe and effective care.
Our response to this incident is an opportunity to reevaluate our overall operations to provide even better care to our Veterans moving forward.
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson released the following statement:
"I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his wellbeing," said Isakson. "This patient, at the end of his life, was clearly not being monitored closely enough, and I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done. I have spoken with Deputy Secretary Byrne to demand answers and express my dissatisfaction across all levels of the VA for allowing this to occur and for failing to inform Congress about this incident until just hours before news broke. I've also spoken to the veteran's daughter and offered my deepest condolences and offered to help in any way I can to ensure that her family is taken care of and that those who allowed these conditions to persist be held accountable to the fullest extent."