VA Medical Center ER suicide prompts warning not to sleep on the job

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ST. LOUIS — A nationwide investigation is underway at the St. Louis VA Medical Center after a patient died by suicide in the emergency room. FOX 2 first broke the story in September and has now learned how the unthinkable happened.

After the tragic suicide inside the ER, a chief medical officer warned in an email that staff “…cannot lie down to take a nap during their shift”.

That’s apparently what happened when 61-year-old Kenneth Hagans walked into the hospital asking for help and was forgotten.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” said Hagans’ son, Graie Hagans.

He told us about his dad from out of state via Zoom.

“He was doing pretty well at the start of 2021,” Hagans said. “You know, he had struggled financially because of COVID. He worked in the service industry. He had worked in restaurants, so I know he was struggling.

Hagans received a call Sept. 29 from a VA doctor saying his father had committed suicide after going to the emergency room for help. Hagans remembered the doctor’s call.

“I just remember telling him over and over again that it was awful,” Hagans said.

He said he was told they forgot about his father.

“They put it in a room that was sort of in a cut,” Hagans said, adding. “It was around the corner. There was no regular foot traffic outside.

When you enter the St. Louis VA Medical Center emergency room, there is a psychiatric area with video-monitored rooms and two nearby nursing stations. Instead of placing Kenneth Hagans there, a VA nurse took him to a room that was unsupervised and not close to staff.

The hospital was reportedly fully staffed and the ER was also not busy that day. FOX 2 learned that Hagans walked in around 5:20 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29, complaining of two medical issues, including depression. After being taken to a corner room, no one reportedly checked on him until he was found dead at around 7.37am.

The VA is still investigating, along with the US Inspector General and the US Office of Special Counsel.

The St. Louis VA declined to comment, citing a written statement that states:

“We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Hagans during this time of bereavement. Our top priority is always to protect the safety and well-being of our patients, visitors and employees. We want to reassure everyone that our commitment to high-quality, patient-centered medical care continues. As this incident is still under investigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.

Graie Hagans said he will remember his father for his humor – and his love.

“Even though he struggled to act in a way that showed how much he loved people. I had no doubts about his intention to love,” Hagans said.

The Veterans Crisis Line is always available at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also chat online at eteranscrisisline.net or text 838255 to reach 24/7 support .

FOX 2 also spoke with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization while working on this report. Deputy National Legislative Director Marquis Barefield said they were closely monitoring the progress of each investigation.

DAV helps veterans connect with health care, disability, employment, education, and financial benefits that can be an important part of mental health. You can find resources on the DAV website www.dav.org.

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