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Surgery Halted at VA Hospital After Deaths

March 28, 1991| From The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department has initiated disciplinary proceedings against two senior medical officials at one of its large hospitals outside Chicago and suspended virtually all surgery there after an inspection raised questions about the deaths of several patients.

What prompted the action by VA Secretary Edward J. Derwinski was a highly critical 111-page report that appeared to confirm a series of anonymous letters he received last summer about conditions in the 1,004-bed North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center, one of the VA's largest.

In their report, inspectors said problems ranged from incorrect diagnosis to questionable surgeries.

The inspectors found the quality of care by the surgical staff "was indeed less than standard," and they accused the hospital staff of blaming the poor health of their patients on the fact that many were diabetic, smokers and heavy drinkers.

Their report, delivered to Derwinski on Monday, said a review of 43 of the 140 deaths at the hospital between June, 1989, and March, 1990, "showed that some of these patients may not have been provided appropriate medical care prior to their death."

James W. Holsinger, the VA's chief medical director, placed the hospital on what Derwinski described as "permanent probation" for all but a limited number of surgical procedures.

Holsinger also relieved Gary Almy of duties as the hospital's chief of staff and began disciplinary proceedings against Leonard Rogers, the hospital's former director, who recently was transferred.

VA officials said it was believed to be the first time that the department has acted against the two top officials at any of its hospitals.

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