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VA identifies 12 veteran deaths in review of cases handled by impaired pathologist

Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, AR. (Veterans Health/Flickr)

Twelve veterans may have died as a result of misdiagnosis by an impaired pathologist at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, the hospital announced Monday.

The hospital has been conducting a review of more than 33,000 cases the pathologist touched in his 13-year tenure, and it held its final monthly town hall on the matter Monday. The hospital announced the full review in June after an initial review of 900 cases found seven misdiagnoses.

The external review found 3,007 cases that resulted in an error or misdiagnosis, about 9 percent of the pathologist’s entire caseload since 2005, when he began working at the hospital. Of the 3,007 cases, 22 were identified as “institutional disclosures,” which is an adverse event that results in or is expected to result in death or serious injury.

Medical Center Director Kelvin Parks again expressed sympathy for those who have been affected.

“We owe you answers,” Parks said. “Our priority is to restore trust in our health care system.”

The pathologist in question was removed from clinical care in October 2017 after the hospital received reports that he was impaired on duty. He was fired in April 2018.

It was the second time he was found impaired on the job, according to the hospital officials. The first was in March 2016, when he was placed in a treatment program; he returned to clinical care in October 2016. The hospital announced in June 2018 it would re-examine all of the cases in which the pathologist had a role.

The pathologist has been identified in Associated Press reports as Robert Levy, who has denied the allegations. The hospital hasn’t released the name of the doctor.

The Office of the Inspector General is conducting its own investigation and will release a report when it’s concluded. Parks said there are 76 cases left to review and that they should be finished within the next two weeks.

About 100 veterans attended Monday’s town hall, including Tim Lybyer, of Fayetteville. His brother died in September 2011 just 21 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. A year prior, Lybyer said, his brother was being seen for liver problems.

“How in the hell was that missed?” Lybyer said. “A full year went by. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Parks, a Navy veteran, said it doesn’t make sense to him either.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know the answers, and I’m not going to try and make one up,” Parks said. “It pains me and it really upsets me as a veteran to know this has happened within our health care system.”

The hospital has held monthly town halls since July to give updates on the case review, and Parks and other hospital spokespeople have emphasized the openness and transparent nature of the case reviews.

But Terry Chuculate, 64, of Vian, Oklahoma, doesn’t feel the same way.

“It’s been as transparent as mud,” she said. “They’re only making everything worse.”

Her husband, Dave, died in June 2011 of kidney cancer. Chuculate said that although his diagnosis was correct, the VA wasn’t as efficient as it could have been in conducting a biopsy. She said her husband was supposed to have a biopsy in Oklahoma City in June 2010 but didn’t get one until November 2010 because of various delays and communication problems between the Fayetteville and Oklahoma City hospitals.

She’s pursuing legal options and just wants the VA to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“I want the VA to be as good as they possibly can be, and better,” she said.


© 2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.