#UPDATE (11:50 a.m., May 28, 2020) – In April, 3 nurses were each accused of stealing a surgical mask to use in the ICU at the Charlie Norwood VA Center where they work.
They said they were wrongfully accused and needed those masks to enter the ICU to wear for their shift. They said no policy was ever in place that they couldn’t take a mask on a cart that was near the entrance of the hospital.
Ultimately they were not charged.
On April 15th, NewsChannel 6 reached out to the VA asking for the policy on that day, as well as other things like video of what allegedly happened.
Three times they have extended the date to respond to our requests.
We are told they will now respond by June 15th. As soon as we get a response – we’ll share that with you.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – “It’s just been overwhelming facing this accusation,” said Jessica, ICU nurse accused of stealing a surgical mask.
An accusation so big to them, that these 3 ICU nurses didn’t want their faces shown due to fear of retaliation by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, where they work. Here’s what they say happened the morning of April 7th.
“Myself and 2 other coworkers walked in together. And we came in and they screened us and we went to the cart and got a mask. Nobody said a word to us,”said Tammy, ICU nurse accused of stealing a surgical mask.
This is a picture one of the nurses gave us that they say is on the door to the ICU. It states you can’t enter without a mask on.
“It’s very confusing as to how to enter a unit that you’re not supposed to go into without a mask when there are no masks available outside of the unit,” said Jessica.
Shortly after beginning their shift, they say hospital police wanted to talk to them.
“He said that he had to read me my miranda rights before he could tell me why I was there. And I said ‘okay’ because I had not done anything wrong,” said Tammy.
“And then he told me that he had it on camera that I and my two other co-workers had stolen a mask each. And I said we did not steal a mask, we put a mask on to go to our unit because it’s required in our unit to wear a mask to protect the people around us and our patients,” said Blair, ICU nurse accused of stealing a surgical mask. “He said, ‘Do you not understand what stealing is? Did you ask if you could have it?’ And I said ‘no.’ He said, ‘Did they tell you to take one?’ And I said, ‘no.’ He said, ‘Then you stole the mask.“
“Basically he told me that I needed to be thankful that I was not getting charged with misdemeanor larceny criminal charges for theft of a surgical mask,” said Tammy.
“We’re already under a lot of stress, we’ve been now 3 weeks into fighting this battle against COVID. And knowing that we haven’t had adequate supplies and we finally think that we have what we need to do our job, and we’re being accused of stealing,” said Jessica.
We asked the VA about the allegations and if a policy was in place that day. They said the investigation revealed the allegations were unfounded. They also said in part “[They’re] equipped with essential items and supplies,” and that they “have an open line of communication with leadership, and we encourage them to talk to us so we can continue to support them appropriately.”
VA Police at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center received an allegation that surgical masks were taken without authorization. They investigated the claim in accordance with VA guidelines and it was unfounded.
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is equipped with essential items and supplies, and we are continually monitoring the status of those items to ensure a robust supply chain.
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is using PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines, and all employees have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as per those guidelines.
Our nursing staff is doing an amazing job under pressure. They have an open line of communication with our leadership, and we encourage them to talk to us so we can continue to support them appropriately.Scott Speaks
VA Public Affairs Chief
“The VA, Augusta, Charlie Norwood VA, every time we ask them – and this statement that they give you, we have plenty of PPE. If they have plenty of PPE why are they doing that?” said Irma Westmoreland, National Nurses United representative.
“I’m speechless. That’s not the way I feel and I don’t believe that my coworkers feel the same way. We don’t feel like they have our backs, we don’t feel supported by them,” said Blair.
“They’ve just put us in a very difficult situation in an extremely heightened level of stress,” said Jessica.
Nurses on the front line during a national pandemic, nurses who say all they’re asking for is a written apology.
“Our reputation is not good right now. I don’t want somebody thinking that I’m a thief and I don’t want someone thinking that I’m a liar,” said Tammy.
“These nurses have been used as an intimidation tactic and that is wrong,” said Westmoreland.
The nurses said they weren’t aware of any policy in place to get a mask that day, so we reached out to the VA and asked. We also asked for surveillance video and any documents related to this case. After 20 business days, they pushed their deadline back and said NewsChannel 6 should get a response by May 29th. Once we receive it, we’ll let you know what they said.
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