A Facebook photo of an elderly man lying on the floor in pain as he awaits treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham, North Carolina, is going viral.
The image was first shared by Hanna McMenamin, a witness to the event whose husband, Stephen, a former U.S. Marine, was waiting to be seen. In an interview with WSB-TV Monday, Stephen McMenamin said a VA nurse started "yelling" at the elderly veteran when she saw him on the waiting room floor.
Hanna McMenamin found the situation "upsetting," so she decided to take a few pictures, her husband told the local news outlet.
When the nurse tried to force the veteran to get off the floor, the older man reportedly said, "I can't get up, and I won't get up. I will be here until you can see me. Can I please have a blanket?" according to Stephen McMenamin.
Hanna McMenamin shared photos of two different men on her Facebook page. One photo was of a man who, according to her, had been awaiting care for at least three hours and was "yelling in pain and was borderline convulsing and almost falling out of his chair." The other man, who wound up on the floor, was "extremely sick" and "could barely walk, sit up, or breathe."
When the McMenamins arrived, they were directed to a seating area right outside the designated waiting area because Stephen McMenamin suffers from back pain and needed a reclining chair. When they saw the older man enter the facility, Hanna McMenamin said, her husband offered him the reclining chair.
The elderly veteran stayed in the recliner for a few minutes before he was instructed by a nurse that he had to move back to the waiting room.
"She completely disregarded [the veteran] and demanded he go sit in the waiting room area, leaving the recliner completely empty," Hanna McMenamin wrote. "[T]he nurse refused to provide any explanation or even her name and stormed off while this man was still struggling."
"The man then asked multiple times for a place to lean back or lay down, and was completely disregarded by the nurse," she continued. "Eventually after being completely neglected, he laid on the floor."
So far, Hanna McMenamin's post has been shared more than 100,000 times, and Stephen McMenamin said other veterans who have had bad experiences at VA hospitals across the U.S. have reached out to them. "All these people, and it was, you know, it's been kind of heartbreaking," he said.
The VA hospital's chief executive nurse told WSB that the medical center is investigating the incident. But Hanna McMenamin updated her Facebook post Monday to say that the hospital is "very unhappy" that she has not yet taken down the photos.
DeAnne Seekins, medical center director at the VA facility, released the following statement:
We take seriously any allegation of poor service. I was made aware of a regrettable incident that occurred in our Emergency Department over the weekend and am thankful someone cared enough to share the incident with us. Our mission is to provide the highest level of health care to Veterans, so upon learning of the incident, I took swift action. The employee was immediately removed from patient care pending the results of an internal review.
It is an honor to serve America's heroes and actions that do not align with our core values will not be tolerated. We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality care to the Veterans we serve and being responsive to our patient's needs. Veterans deserve nothing less.
North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican, called the ordeal "absolutely tragic."