SALT LAKE CITY — After the father of a U.S. Army veteran tweeted photos of an unkempt patient room at a Veterans Affairs clinic in Salt Lake, igniting angry reactions on social media, a top administrator there said the facility is investigating why the space was in poor condition.
The tweeted photos showed some medical supplies strewn out on a counter, a bowl containing water and a plaster-like substance sitting mostly full in a sink, and an overflowing garbage can.
"I figured they would say, 'Oh, this room's not clean' and take me somewhere else, but they just kind of blew past it, didn't acknowledge it," said Christopher Wilson, who spent six years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq twice. "They're doctors, right? So I figure one of them was going to say 'Let's go somewhere else' or 'Give us a minute to clean it,' but nothing."
Wilson's father, Stephen Wilson, posted the photos Friday, calling the sight "very unprofessional, unsanitary and disrespectful." The post was retweeted more than 5,600 times by Saturday evening, and nearly 900 people left comments.
"The condition of the room was the way it was when he went in, no other room was offered and no attempt to clean it up was made for the duration of his appointment," Stephen Wilson also tweeted.
Dr. Karen Gribbin, chief of staff at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, said in an interview Saturday that when the saw the photos "I was taken aback by the condition of the room."
"Mr. Wilson should not have been placed in the room in that condition," Gribbin said. "The room should be cleaned, supplies and trash removed, before the next patient is placed in there. We are beginning our investigation into seeing exactly how this happened."
Christopher Wilson said he was in the room for an appointment on April 5 to get 18 injections in his ankle and surrounding area, and worried about the appearance of the room, which he said "felt unsanitary." The ankle was being treated in relation to a service injury he suffered while serving in Iraq, according to his father.
"When you think medical (office), you think sanitary," Christopher Wilson said. "I've never experienced anything like that."
Gribbin said the photos of the room indicate "it might have been taken in one of our clinics that does casting procedures for patients," and that "the items in the photos look to me like bowls to mix plaster supplied to apply the casts."
She confirmed that Christopher Wilson received injections in that patients room, but said any injection supplies "would have been used just on him."
"My understanding was that strictly these casts are applied in this room but there (are) not other types of debridement or surgical removal of tissue or anything like that that occurs (in the room), so I do not believe Mr. Wilson was exposed to any dangerous body fluids or blood," Gribbin said. "But regardless, the room should have been cleaned before he was placed in it."
Gribbin was asked what the typical procedure was for when to clean patient rooms in order to ensure they are clean for each visit.
"We are investigating that. To be quite honest I do not work in that clinic area and I am not sure ... exactly what that process is. We will be absolutely clarifying that, making sure our policies and procedures are well thought out and well communicated to staff," Gribbin responded.
"We will be holding a meeting with staff bright and early Monday morning before clinic starts in that area to review what appears to have happened and make sure that everyone is clear on our expectations."
Christopher Wilson said that in his own experience, a Veterans Affairs patient room in disarray is atypical.
"There's always something though," he said, referring to his frustration with lengthy appointment backlogs, long wait times and general poor service.
"It's kind of weird that the people who are there to serve us kind of see us as a hindrance more than anything," he said. "(We) don't seem to be a priority."
But Christopher Wilson also said he has some sympathy for the staff, who he believes face a disproportionate patient burden, in part because of "really a funding issue."
"I mean there's no way for the amount of staff they have there to care for all the veterans" they're responsible for, he said.
Gribbin insisted that the Wilsons' experience was well out of the ordinary in Salt Lake.
"In general, we have enjoyed very high patient satisfaction ratings at our facility," she said. "I have been here now a little over six years. I have never had a patient tell me about an experience like this, so I think this was one of those rare unfortunate events."
Gribbin said she spoke with Christopher Wilson on Saturday and apologized to him "for his experience."
"I thanked him for bringing this to our attention. I do not want another veteran to experience this," she said.
Wilson said he was surprised at the scope of the reaction to his dad's post on Twitter, but that he hopes the publicity will lead to some form of change.
"(To) actually see the conditions, being able to get awareness (out) about the problems, I think might help," he said.
Contributing: Sean Moody