Virginia Sen. Jim Webb intends to investigate the visitor policy at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center psychiatry unit, he told reporters Thursday. Webb's probe comes in response to a Daily Press report Sunday that exposed a three-year-old policy at the hospital that psychiatric inpatients are not allowed to have visitors.
Hospital officials said the policy was adopted for patient safety to curb the smuggling of contraband into the unit.
There were two overdoses in 2000 and 2001. The second was fatal. Both were linked to contraband.
The policy appears to violate both VA regulations and generally accepted medical practice. The psychiatric unit acknowledges that it still has problems with contraband.
Webb said he had asked an assistant to contact Nancy Washabaugh, whose husband died two weeks after being admitted to the Hampton VA.
Other than during one consultation, she was not allowed to see him during his stay.
Floyd "Chip" Washabaugh died of a pulmonary embolism two weeks after he was admitted to the psychiatric unit. Pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs, can be caused by prolonged immobility or lengthy bed rest.
"We're going to take her situation on, and we're going to bring it to a resolution," Webb said.
Webb said he understood that the policy was aimed at preventing patients from obtaining illegal drugs. But he added, "that, in and of itself, does not justify the fact that she was not able to see her husband."
Webb, a former Marine with combat experience in Vietnam, is a freshman Democrat who serves on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees in the Senate.
"We're going to get to the bottom of it, and we're going to report to the people on it," he said.
Webb's comments follow action taken by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Unit, which faxed a letter to the hospital Wednesday calling the policy "cruel and demeaning." The ACLU threatened to pursue a lawsuit if the no-visitors policy is not immediately rescinded.
A hospital spokeswoman said Thursday that they had not received the ACLU letter.
U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D- Newport News, toured the VA hospital on Wednesday and said hospital officials told him the policy was under review. Scott said he expected more visitors to be allowed after the review was completed in a few weeks.