Spike in Deaths at Marion VA Center Being Investigated

Published: October 3, 2007

WASHINGTON – In response to a Sept. 24 letter sent by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed in a meeting with Durbin that recently there was a spike in deaths at the Marion, Ill., VA Medical Center.

According to the Chicago Tribune, on Oct. 3 the VA admitted that between October 2006 and March 2007 there were nine deaths at the Marion facility when there would normally be two. Officials also revealed that a surgeon who had been barred from practicing medicine in another state had played some role in the patients’ deaths.

Dr. Jose Veizaga-Mendez was allowed to practice medicine at the medical center until August 2007 despite having to surrender his license in Massachusetts after numerous allegations of malpractice. He had been under investigation by licensing authorities for providing “grossly substandard care” that led to complications and patient deaths. In July 2006, he surrendered his Massachusetts medical license.

Both senators noted in an open letter to the VA that “The recent revelation that VAMC employed a surgeon who had been barred from practicing in another state casts doubt on the adequacy of the VA’s system of credentialing and quality control. It also raises serious concerns about the response to the unusual spike in deaths at Marion earlier this year.”

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Durbin claims VA officials were informed of Veizaga-Mendez’s being barred from practicing medicine after he began working at the Marion facility.

He also says bad decisions regarding surgeries had been made and that the Marion facility was performing procedures that were beyond its capacity.

In their Sept. 24 letter, Durbin and Obama asked what kind of background checks are performed by the VA before hiring medical staff who will be providing direct care to veterans. Additionally, the letter requested information on what interim and long term steps the VA is taking to improve its system in order to ensure these problems do not arise in any other VA medical facilities. The senators also wanted to know what plans are underway within the VA to discuss these tragedies with the affected families and provide compensation.

Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs suspended all inpatient surgeries at the medical center until an investigation into the deaths is completed. Additionally, four top hospital officials have been reassigned.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a spokesman for the VA would not confirm that there had been a meeting with Durbin nor comment about the investigation.

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