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Charleston VA head gets a promotion after Atlanta vets bitten by ants in nursing home

Booming local VA hospital, clinics add 270 employees (copy)

Scott Isaacks, director of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, speaks to the media in 2015. He was appointed director of the medical center in 2014. 

A swarm of ants in an Atlanta nursing home landed the director of Charleston's Veterans Affairs hospital an interim promotion Tuesday when an executive was placed on administrative leave.

VA announced Scott Isaacks took over a regional director position in Atlanta effective immediately after troubles at a VA-operated nursing home. An Atlanta TV news outlet reported a Vietnam veteran living in the facility was bitten more than 100 times by ants.

In response, VA acknowledged it found ants at the Eagle’s Nest Community Living Center, said a thorough cleaning had been done, and apologized. The bites prompted outrage from Georgia's own senator.

"I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his well-being," U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in a statement issued to the media. "This patient, at the end of his life, was clearly not being monitored closely enough, and I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done."

VA said the ant incident was one among other ongoing issues at the regional office. Isaacks, meanwhile, leads a facility that has received the highest marks among medical centers of its size from the government. He also oversaw the groundbreaking of a new veterans' health clinic in North Charleston earlier this year.

The job Isaacks is now filling — Integrated Service Network director — oversees VA operations in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The Veterans Health Administration system is split into 23 of these networks. By comparison, there are 170 medical centers like the one Isaacks has been leading for the last five years in the country.

Isaacks was named the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center director after several months serving in an interim capacity in the job, following Carolyn Adams' departure. Adams was the first woman to hold the top position.

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During Isaacks' interim role, the Charleston VA's associate director, Ronnie Smith, will serve as acting director, a local spokeswoman said in a statement. No timeline was offered of how long the transition would take.

"Mr. Isaacks has presided over a host of improvements resulting in the facility's recognition as a top performer among VA and non-VA hospitals when it comes to quality and efficiency," she said. 

VA says it is taking other steps to remedy problems in Atlanta. It assigned the Atlanta-based network's chief medical officer to non-administrative duties while a review takes place. Seven other, unnamed staffers were moved out of roles caring for patients. 

“What happened at Eagles’ Nest was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that Veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” Dr. Richard Stone, the Veterans Health Administration's executive in charge, said in a statement. “Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard.”

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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