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Veteran says OKC VA provided 'kitty litter' substance and plastic bags for ICU toilets

OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) - The Oklahoma City Veterans Administration hospital is requiring veterans to use portable toilets in rooms not equipped with modern restroom facilities.

“I was just totally surprised that it would be that way,” Tim Stillwell, a Vietnam veteran from Jones, told FOX 25.

Stillwell was sent to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit last week at the Oklahoma City VA hospital. It is a facility he has been to before and never been in a similar situation.

“I've been down there a lot of times over the years, but never nothing like that,” Stillwell said. “It was always good care and good rooms and clean rooms.”

The Oklahoma City VA hospital told FOX 25 the cardiac ICU is located in temporary rooms without private toilet facilities. Patients who are able to get out of bed have to use portable toilets equipped with plastic sanitation bags. Inside those bags is a powder that is supposed to contain and deodorize patients' waste. While the VA describes the location of the rooms for heart patients as "temporary," they have been located in their toilet-free rooms for nearly three years.

It was described to Stillwell as kitty litter.

“They had a good bed there and I sat down on the bed and then they told me if I needed to use the restroom I had to do it in the cat litter in this plastic sack.”

The VA hospital said the administrator was not available to do an interview, but promised a statement about the conditions for patients. A spokesperson said the temporary toilets are used for patients who cannot travel down to a shared restroom. However, the spokesperson said the temporary rooms will eventually be moved to their permanent location which will have private toilet facilities for patients.

“I don't think it is right that the veterans would have to put up with something like that. Except for the bed, it is about the way we lived in Vietnam,” Stillwell said.

He said the staff took good care of him, but besides the discomfort and embarrassment for the veterans he is concerned about staff having to work in these temporary conditions.

“The people that work there are great, they are absolutely wonderful, and they have to put up with it, too.”

The Oklahoma VA Hospital sent FOX 25 this statement in regards to our questions about the situation:

"We have several construction projects underway that will enhance access to care for Oklahoma's Veterans. One of those projects is a new Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). In order to begin construction of our new SICU, our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) was temporarily relocated. Since these areas care for our sickest Veterans, the temporary CICU utilizes portable toilets, which are commonplace in an intensive care unit. We use a product called a "Sani-Bag" with our portable toilets which is a sanitary, safe and environmentally friendly commode liner that contains a specially formulated waste treatment powder. The powder turns liquid to solid for easy, mess-free disposal. It also has a deodorizer to control odor and a catalyst that aids in decomposition. For patients that are more mobile, there is a restroom available within the CICU if they choose to use it and are able to based on their physician's assessment. Once construction is complete, the CICU will relocate back to its former space where both portable toilets and in-room toilets are available to the Veteran based on their needs. The completion date for our new SICU is not known at this time due to pending negotiations with the construction contractor; however, it is important to note that any construction delays have not negatively impacted care to our Veterans in our intensive care units."

The VA statement indicates these portable toilets are commonplace. However, FOX 25 checked with both Mercy and Integris hospitals and their ICU patients, including those in Cardiac Intensive Care, have access to real toilets in their rooms and the patients are not required to use portable toilets.

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