Veteranclaims’s Blog

November 17, 2009

Philadelphia-VA Medical Errors Receives Few Penalties

This lack of accountability is one of the main reasons that the VA system is in the shape that it is.

Full Article at: VA clinic troubles bring few penalties
Despite poor care in the Phila. prostate program, the agency has only slapped a few hands.

By Josh Goldstein

Inquirer Staff Writer

“More than a year after the Philadelphia VA Medical Center said it had given substandard care to nearly 100 veterans with prostate cancer, the list of sanctions is sparse:

One physician accepted a three-day suspension. A radiation safety official got a letter of reprimand. And the University of Pennsylvania doctor who performed most of the poor procedures lost his job when the Philadelphia VA closed the program.

Several lawmakers who have investigated the cases said that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ actions were both anemic and late, and that the agency had acted only after prominent newspaper articles appeared in the summer, detailing radiation overdoses and underdoses.

“They ought not have to wait for a front-page newspaper article or a Senate committee hearing to do what they should have done on their own,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), one of the lawmakers who feels the VA has been slow to respond. “I think that it is regrettably necessary to keep pressure on them to follow up.”

Newly obtained documents shed more light on the program, showing that the mistakes began with the earliest cases, starting in 2002, and that the hospital missed numerous opportunities to catch them.

In one 2003 case, for example, more than half the radioactive seeds landed in the patient’s bladder instead of in the prostate. Yet no program-wide review ensued, and the brachytherapy treatments continued for five more years.

Gary Kao, the Penn radiation oncologist who directed the program, has been the public whipping boy for its flaws. He lost his VA position when the program was closed but was never officially sanctioned by the hospital. He’s now on leave from Penn.”

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