Article courtesy of WECT | Shared as educational material| July 9, 2015 |
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – More disappointing news for veterans waiting for medical care at the Wilmington VA clinic. The latest round of water testing shows there is still heavy metal contamination in the clinic’s water, based on EPA action levels, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.
The sample was taken by the CFPUA as a courtesy to the VA, and was not submitted by the building owner as part of the formal process to get the “Do Not Use” order lifted for water at the clinic. That means the shuttered departments at the clinic are no closer to reopening.
Water contamination has been causing problems at the clinic since March, when the CFPUA issued a “Do Not Use” order for water at the clinic, saying it was unsafe for human consumption. That order effectively shut down the GI, Urology and Dental Departments at the clinic.
Patients with routine medical needs have had their appointments canceled indefinitely. Patients with more urgent medical needs have been referred to other providers at the VA’s expense.
Officials at the CFPUA say an internal plumbing issue is causing the contamination, not the water supply. The VA says it is at the mercy of its landlord, Summit Smith HealthCare of Wisconsin, to fix the problems with the building.
The VA announced Wednesday it is seeking partial reimbursement for their rent, as well as damages, since part of the clinic has been unusable for more than three months. Taxpayers are spending $280,000 a month for the VA to rent the clinic from Summit Smith.
Meanwhile, an attorney for Summit Smith is challenging the CFPUA’s authority to issue the “Do Not Use” order. In a July 6 letter to the CFPUA, attorney Mike Fortune writes, “CFPUA has no authority whatsoever to ban public consumption of water in a facility when the authority has no written standards for drinking water…,” and demanded that the order posted on the clinic’s front door be removed immediately.
The CFPUA says long-term exposure to heavy metal contamination can cause liver and kidney damage. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have both gotten involved in the Wilmington VA Clinic issues, trying to get this resolved so all patients services at the Wilmington clinic can resume.
Senator Burr has asked for a briefing by the VA later this month. Burr released this statement Thursday afternoon, responding to the latest developments:
This VA clinic, open for just two years, is now having major problems providing care to our veterans in the Wilmington area because of an unresolved plumbing problem. Given the systemic problems uncovered at VA last year when veterans waited months for care, I don’t want to hear that veterans in southeast North Carolina are facing the same problems. Secretary McDonald owes me and these veterans answers. Until then, excuse after excuse for the agency’s continued failures will fall on deaf ears.