VA Hospital Surgery Deaths Lead to Limitations At Some Facilities

The Veterans Affairs Department has downgraded the complexity of surgeries that five VA hospitals are allowed to perform following an investigation stemming from the death of a number of patients at a southern Illinois facility. 

The VA has assigned different levels of “surgical complexity” to 112 VA hospitals across the country, based in part on their proficiency and record of surgical mistakes. Last Thursday, the VA announced it was reducing the level of surgery performed at facilities in Alexandria, Louisiana; Beckley, West Virginia; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Danville, Illinois; and Spokane, Washington.

The new system was put in place as a result of VA hospital surgery deaths at the Marion VA Medical Center in southern Illinois in 2006 and 2007. At least nine patients died at that hospital due to medical mistakes by doctors. An investigation by the VA found that at least 10 other deaths, as well as a number of injuries, at the hospital could be contributed to by poor care. A 2008 report by investigators determined that the surgical division of the Marion Center was in “disarray” and suspended all surgeries at the VA hospital.

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In July 2009, the VA reached a $10 million wrongful death settlement with the wife of James Marshall, one of the patients who died at Marion due to surgical errors. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that Marshall’s death was caused by negligent medical treatment provided by Jose Veizaga-Mendez, who has been linked to a number of medical malpractice claims.

From June 2009 through March 2010, VA officials investigated all 112 surgery programs before setting surgery complexity levels for each. The five facilities that were downgraded had all been performing surgeries of “intermediate” complexity, but now will only be allowed to perform surgeries the VA deems as “standard,” such as hernia repair and ENT surgeries.

“VA began this major undertaking in 2007 to close and prevent gaps in surgical care,” said the VA Under Secretary of Health, Dr. Robert Petzel. “Our mission is to provide the best health care to Veterans, and we are determined to meet uncompromising standards for inpatient surgery.”

The VA hospital system faced substantial criticism over the quality of medical treatment provided at other medical clinics in multiple states throughout the course of 2009. Investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported in June that a cancer unit at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center mishandled nearly 100 cases involving radiation treatment and suggested that staff involved had altered records to cover mistakes. The VA is also still dealing with the fallout from colonoscopy problems at VA centers in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, where contaminated equipment exposed thousands of veterans to hepatitis, HIV and other blood borne diseases. Lawmakers blasted the VA in a hearing in July for the repeated lapses in veteran care.

3 Comments

  • tracySeptember 14, 2015 at 3:07 am

    My mother is not receiving healthcare from the va medical center. She has a hiatal hernia that needs to be repaired. The va will not help her. She wants to take this to court.

  • DavidJanuary 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Hepatitis c

  • LaureenMarch 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    The University of Florida operates with the VA in Gainesville, FL. And with the Shands Hospital. My husband died as a result of medical mistakes made at this VA. First he was overhydrated grossly, he gained thirty pounds in one week and then he was given water pills to remove the water from his body and my husband who had a kidney transplant lost his kidney. Out of the blue.................Th[Show More]The University of Florida operates with the VA in Gainesville, FL. And with the Shands Hospital. My husband died as a result of medical mistakes made at this VA. First he was overhydrated grossly, he gained thirty pounds in one week and then he was given water pills to remove the water from his body and my husband who had a kidney transplant lost his kidney. Out of the blue.................They said he needed a surgery. They convinced him he would die without it. It was found he did not need this surgery. He died. I feel the hospital students needed the surgery because of the way it all suddenly was arranged and my husband was given 60 mil of morfine and asked to sign papers for surgery.

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