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Director and staff’s maskless dance time amid COVID crisis at VA hospital sparks outrage: ‘This is not okay’

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The director of a VA hospital in Oregon along with several members of his staff have sparked outrage after a video of him along with roughly 16 staffers engaged in a ‘flash mob dance’ in violation of social distancing guidelines.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Roseburg announced they would “reiterate the importance of social distancing” after the video was leaked online, The Oregonian reported Tuesday.

An earlier report by the paper added that the incident appeared to have been part of “a morale-building exercise” and that video of it was initially posted on the hospital’s intranet late last week.

As seen in the video, almost no one is wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE).

The paper noted:

The video, obtained last week by The Oregonian/OregonLive, showed facility director Keith Allen and VA personnel dancing together in the administrative offices without personal protection equipment or social distancing — in flagrant violation of safety protocols.

The Roseburg VA Health Care facility has already had at least four COVID-19 cases, has an infected staff member who was put on a ventilator at a Portland hospital, and serves a vulnerable population of elderly veterans, many with preexisting conditions. The video, which was labeled as a “director’s update” and posted on the VA regional intranet, outraged VA employees and shocked members of Oregon’s congressional delegation.

 

“Director Allen’s actions were totally inappropriate, especially in a healthcare setting and especially given the numerous veterans with underlying health conditions,” said U.S. Rep. Pete DeFazio, a Democrat, in a statement emailed to The Oregonian.

A spokesman for the hospital, Tim Parish, noted that all the employees featured in the flash mob were voluntary participants, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that protocols were violated — and that scores of Oregonians who want to be at work can’t be at work because their jobs have been deemed “non-essential.”

Parish seemed to excuse the behavior by adding that the VA facility wasn’t required to follow the state protocols regarding social distancing and other coronavirus-related mitigation recommendations, but “has had safeguards in place since March 13 in accordance” with those put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Oregonian reported.

They include a “comprehensive COVID-19 screening process for staff, visitors, patients, and contractors,” the agency says.

“This video was made in an administrative, non-clinical area where PPE (personal protective equipment) is not required,” Parish added. “All staff who participated were volunteers and had been properly screened, per CDC and VA guidelines.

“VA realizes the importance of social distancing during this national emergency and will reiterate that to all employees involved,” he said.

The UK’s Daily Mail added that Allen is now under fire for the stunt:

In a blatant disregard of social distancing guidelines, Allen, with a boom-box over his shoulder, is seen leading the awkward procession of 16 employees down a hallway, walking past clinical staff wearing scrubs on the way.

It took about three minutes, but someone on the video finally noted that “there are too many people in the room.”

The Daily Mail noted further that nationwide, at least 20 VA employees have died from coronavirus, at least 14 of whom were not in clinical roles; 2,000 have tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s just disgusting in my opinion,” one VA staffer who requested anonymity The Oregonian. “If it weren’t for the COVID-19 virus we would probably be laughing at this. But this is not okay. We have one of our own in the hospital fighting for his life.”

Allen sent a private email to leaders in Roseburg that was leaked to a local paper.

“I would like to begin with an apology if this video offended anyone, it was not a dance party. It was meant to bring a small amount of stress relief and happiness to the Staff at the Roseburg VA Pathology and Laboratory Department,” he wrote, according to the News-Review, as cited by the Daily Mail.

“At no time have I forgotten any of the staff or Veterans that have become infected by this virus,” he continued. “I hold each and every one of them in my thoughts and prayers.”

Jon Dougherty

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