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VA puts regional director on leave after veteran found covered in ants at assisted-living facility

Courtesy Laquana Ross

The head of the Veterans Health Administration announced a series of major changes at an assisted-living facility days after a dying Air Force veteran was twice found covered in ants in his bed.

Joel Marrable, who served in Vietnam, was living out his final days at the Eagles’ Nest Community Living Center in the Atlanta VA Medical Center, a US Department of Veterans Affairs facility.

But in the days before his death on September 7, he was twice found with ants all over him. Photos showed scores of bites on his body, his daughter said last week.

“What happened at Eagles’ Nest was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that Veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Dr. Richard Stone said in a statement. “Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard.”

Marrable’s daughter, Laquana Ross, said last week she is not upset with the VA over the ants, but wanted her father’s story to prompt change.

“Maybe this can move the needle and improve the process,” she said. “The VA is busy. They have a lot of patients and huge needs they have to address.”

Stone’s statement said that the director of the regional VA network was placed on immediate administrative leave. Scott Isaacks, the Charleston, South Carolina, VA Medical Center director, will take over the position.

In addition, the regional chief medical officer has been detailed to administrative duties pending a review of the quality and safety of care, the statement said. Further, seven Atlanta VA medical center staff members were moved into non-patient care positions amid a review, and all VA personnel are being retrained in how to report urgent issues, the statement said.

In a statement to CNN, the Atlanta VA Health Care System said it “always strives to provide Veterans with the very best health care available. When we don’t meet that standard, we hold ourselves accountable.”

“That’s why we have initiated a top-to-bottom review of this situation to ensure it never happens again. We have apologized to the Marrable family and taken immediate action to correct this issue and ensure no other Veterans will be affected in the future.”

What happened

Ross said she was told by the staff last week that workers at the facility saw ants on Marrable in his bed.

She said they told her, “We thought Mr. Marrable was dead. We didn’t know what had happened. Everyone jumped in and grabbed him and made sure we did whatever we could to get the ants off of him.”

Marrable, 73, had a feeding tube, was weak from cancer and his ability to talk was limited. He was still alive.

Ross said the staff said they stripped the bed and bathed her father, cleaned the room, put new sheets on the bed and put him back in the same room.

The next day he was covered in ants again — on his stomach, feeding tube, diaper, everywhere.

Ross said she reached out to the administrator on duty and they said her father would be moved and they would check on him every 15 minutes.

An hour after being in the new room, he died.

“I felt very small in the world… when my dad died,” she said. “Now I am able to share his story and my dad matters to someone beyond me and my family. Now the world knows and the world cares that this happened.”

In a statement to CNN affiliate WSB, the VA said the bedrooms at the facility have been stripped, cleaned and inspected for ants. Other measures taken include the removal of open containers and food in the open being removed, staff making more room visits, daily pest control, a third-party exterminator visit and a future visit by a pest specialist from the VA.

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said he had contacted the Veterans Affairs Department to “demand answers.”

“I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his well-being,” Isakson said. “This patient, at the end of his life, was clearly not being monitored closely enough, and I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done.”

Ross told WSB her father has served in Vietnam in the Air Force and had cancer. She told the station she had asked the staff about bumps on her father and was told it was ants.

She told CNN her father should be remembered as a good person who loved God.

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