More than 20 nursing home volunteers are set to testify on Monday in a federal lawsuit alleging the Department of Veterans Affairs discriminated against them when they left the department in the wake of the Ebola crisis.
The lawsuit alleges the VA’s medical center in Philadelphia was “in a state of lockdown” and “under constant threat of violence.”
“I didn’t have a clue what was going on,” said Mary Meeks, a nursing home patient in Philadelphia who was diagnosed with Ebola in October.
“I was scared to death of the nurses and their families, and I’m just trying to keep my head down.
We’ve been subjected to so much prejudice, and it’s just really hard.”
Meeks, who also went on to work for the Texas Health and Human Services Agency, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the VA in April after she was placed on a “non-care” status by the agency.
“I felt like the nursing home was in a state where I was second class,” she said.
“There were just so many of us who were so worried about losing our jobs and having no way of getting back to work,” she continued.
“So I wanted to come forward and help.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of other former VA workers who are also seeking to be compensated for their injuries.
It is also a reaction to a letter that the department sent to nursing home patients in the coming weeks asking them to remain at home while they recover.
The letter also instructed the veterans to sign confidentiality agreements with the VA.
Meeks and other nursing home residents are among a group who filed a lawsuit against VA Secretary David Shulkin in July in federal court in Texas.
The suit alleged that the agency discriminated against the veterans when it sent them to nursing homes in response to the outbreak in the U.S.
The suit alleges the letter was sent because the VA had “lost faith in its ability to care for” its own patients, citing the lack of staffing and patient care at nursing homes.
“We are very sick and we want to be taken care of, but the nursing homes were told they could only do that because they were receiving additional resources from the Department,” Meeks said.
Mews and other former employees said they were subjected to harassment, sexual harassment and retaliation.
They also allege that the VA failed to provide adequate care to veterans with health problems and that it refused to pay them for their time.
“When I was transferred, I had no idea if I would be treated with dignity or respect,” said Meeks.
“The VA just kept asking me to keep quiet.
It’s been years since I was treated with that level of respect.”
According to the suit, the VA was told the nursing facilities were providing care for veterans “for less than their fair market value,” which is “not consistent with the requirements of [VA] regulations and regulations.”
The suit also alleges the nursing facility employees were required to provide “confidential information to their supervisors” and that they were not allowed to discuss their medical condition with anyone other than supervisors.
The VA’s lawsuit claims that it “continues to monitor the health and well-being of the nursing staff and the health of veterans.”