Updated: 07/14/2014 11:27 PM
Created: 07/14/2014 11:15 PM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch
ALBANY – A longtime nurse manager is blowing the whistle on the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, thrusting the Holland Ave. facility into a national scandal involving allegations of misconduct at Veteran’s Affairs hospitals across the country.
Valerie Riviello alleged two doctors in the psychiatric ward broke policy last year by keeping a female veteran and sexual assault victim in restraints for hours on end. Riviello, who has worked at the hospital for 28 years, said she was demoted for unshackling the woman.
"If nurses can't speak up -- and they're 24/7 with patients, and taking care of patients all the time -- then we have a problem," Riviello told NewsChannel 13. "It’s very sad to have been treated this way, and to watch veterans be treated this way."
Riviello said she has since learned of other problems at the facility, including a hospice nurse who was allegedly fired for stealing morphine and replacing it with another substance, leaving dying patients with no pain medication in their IV.
The hospital issued a statement that said, in part, "Unfortunately, we cannot comment on personnel matters, especially as it is currently under investigation. However, we take any allegations involving patient care very seriously."
The statement, approved by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, added, "We have an open environment for employees, one where we encourage them to come forward and utilize the venues available to raise issues and concerns."
But that is not always the case, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington. The office is investigating allegations of retaliation against 37 whistleblowers at VA hospitals nationwide, including the claims set forth by Riviello.
"It's a pretty pervasive VA problem," said Riviello, who has retained the services of the Albany-based Tully-Rinckey law firm in the hope of getting her old job back. "I think that it's a problem with lack of oversight, and not very good integrity."