BEDFORD — Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan slammed the VA Bedford Healthcare System Friday, saying that more than a month of shortcomings in the search for a hospital resident who was found dead in a stairwell has left investigators unable to tell the veteran’s family how he died.
“Tim White deserved better from the country he served than a lonely death in an empty stairwell,” U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat and himself a veteran, said in a statement shortly after Ryan’s findings were announced.
Ryan’s office investigated the death of Timothy White, who had been missing for over a month from his 凯发真人试玩首页home in a residential part of the hospital campus operated by Caritas Communities, when he was found dead in a seldom-used stairwell inside a hospital building on June 12.
White, who was allowed to come and go from his residence as he pleased, was last seen on May 8, and was reported missing by an employee of Caritas Communities on May 13, according to Ryan.
“The review found that given the delay in discovering Mr. White’s body in the stairwell, the Medical Examiner was not able to determine whether he died of natural causes where he was found, or if he was injured, or incapacitated for a period of time before his death, either from dehydration or lack of medical treatment,” Ryan said in a prepared statement.
She said that left investigators unable to determine whether there was criminal conduct connected to the death.
“It is clear that Mr. White’s family suffers the terrible fate of not knowing how he died or whether anything could have been done to assist him,” Ryan said in a prepared statement.
While Ryan said investigators could not determine whether anything could have been done to save White, her office released a five-part list of recommendations to address shortcomings in hospital procedures, and blasted the status quo.
“Today, even with the release of this report, Mr. White’s family is left without a clear understanding of exactly what happened in the days between when he was reported missing and when he was located a month later, further compounding the pain of their loss,” Ryan said. “Our investigation into this matter revealed a pattern of poor communication and an absence of policies and protocols which resulted in a failure for any agency to have clear and complete control over the stairwell where Mr. White was found. What is obvious is that the situation between the VA and Caritas is untenable. To ensure that this situation does not repeat itself and that no family will suffer a similar fate in the future, these shortfalls should be addressed immediately.”
The recommendations of Ryan’s office are:
- Improved communication with families, and providing clear and complete information to families at the earliest possible time.
- Ensuring no information that has not already been released to the family be released to the public.
- Establishing clear guildelines regarding procedures for when residents cannot be found.
- Plans for patrolling infrequently used portions of hospital buildings where people aren’t readily visible.
- Forming an agreement between the VA and Caritas Communities establishing who has responsibility for common areas.
A 77-page report on the investigation released by Ryan’s Office can be read by clicking here.
In a statement released later Friday, the hospital’s chief of public affairs said the facility, and Caritas, are already working to make improvements.
“VA Bedford Healthcare System grieves for the loss of Mr. White. The facility has already implemented several of the report’s recommendations, and as the report notes, cooperation with Caritas Communities has improved,” said a statement released by Chief of Public Affairs Kat Bailey.
Moulton immediately called for additional congressional oversight, detailed a history of concerns about the Bedford VA Police Department, said local police should be given more ity on VA campuses, and demanded an update on a probe being conducted by the VA Inspector General’s Office.
Moulton has long raised concerns about the hospital’s police force, pressuring the agency to reform its police, and even meeting with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs last year. He joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Ed Markey, Rep. Kathleen Clark, and Rep. Lori Trahan in calling for an inspector general investigation into what happened.
Addressing reforms the VA was said to be implementing a year ago, Moulton expressed only disappointment.
“I wanted to give those reforms time to work,” Moulton said in a prepared statement. “Clearly, they have failed.”
Moulton called for a number of reforms and investigations, and pointedly called for VA police to no longer be in charge.
“This investigation has made clear that local police forces should be given lead investigatory ity when lives are on the line,” Moulton wrote.
Officials at Caritas Communities in Bedford did not immediately return a message on Friday afternoon, but they addressed the death in June shortly after White was discovered.
Caritas is a non-profit organization that works to provide one-room housing to previously 凯发真人试玩首页homeless veterans, also working to connect them to counseling, medical treatment, and employment services, according to the statement.
Residents are free to come and go as they please, and do not have to check in with Caritas staff, according to the statement released by Caritas Communities Director of Communications Amy Meneely in June.
“Caritas Communities is committed to the health and safety of our residents and follows strict protocols when a resident is discovered missing,” Meneely said in that statement.
White’s family could not be reached for comment.