VA pays for eight medical malpractice deaths

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New reports indicate that the Department of Veterans Affairs paid nearly $950,000 in benefits in the deaths of eight patients at their facilities in Dayton between 2005 and 2008. Records show that medical malpractice claims against the agency were increasingly prevalent during this period. The largest payout involved a $275,000 ruling related to a 2006 case.

A physician had allegedly failed to adequately diagnose a patient’s infection after hip surgery. The man eventually died from the infection. Other cases involved injuries due to patient assault and medication errors, both of which led to death.

Two malpractice cases are still pending against the Dayton VA Medical Center, linked to two wrongful deaths in 2009 and 2010. These are among 72 medical malpractice cases filed against that hospital since 2007. Most of those cases involved patients’ claims against the dental clinic at the Dayton facility; most appear to be related to a 2011 infection-control scandal. A dentist was found to be using unsterilized dental equipment and dirty gloves during dental procedures, endangering many veterans between 1992 and 2010.

In one of the recently settled cases, a veteran’s spouse says that he was inappropriately medicated and not monitored according to protocol. The male patient had been on blood thinners at the time of a liver biopsy operation, which reportedly caused him to hemorrhage and die. The man’s wife says that the hospital was negligent because doctors prescribed too much blood-thinning medication, which she says led to the hemorrhage. She also claims that nurses failed to adequately check her husband’s vital signs during the critical period after the surgery. The woman says her husband would likely be alive today if the nurses had followed treatment requirements.

Although hospital officials are concerned about the 72 cases pending against their institution, they also insist that they have a good safety record. The hospital has experienced about 3 million patient care encounters since 2007; officials argue that 72 claims is a relatively small part of the overall picture. Hospital leaders do acknowledge, however, that even one malpractice claim is too many, and they take all of the claims very seriously.

The number of claims against the VA is on the rise throughout the nation, according to recent reports, which show that 1,670 claims were filed in 2010. This is a 33 percent increase from 2005. Nearly $80 million was paid during fiscal year 2010 through tort claims and litigation against the VA.

Source: Dayton Daily News, “VA paid 8 families in death lawsuits,” Ben Sutherly, March 11, 2012