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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Delayed tests, inadequate care linked to 23 cancer patient deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals -- By Mark Flatten, The Washington Examiner

A wheelchair sits outside the Atlanta VA Medical Center last year. Four deaths at the Atlanta VA Medical Center are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the VA, prompting outrage from elected officials and congressional scrutiny of what is the largest integrated health care system in the country with nearly 300,000 employees. (AP Photo/David Goldman)Delays in cancer screenings contributed to as many as 23 patient deaths at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals nationwide, according to an agency document.

Another 53 patients suffered some type of harm as a result of improper care related to gastrointestinal cancer testing or treatment, according to the April 2014 fact sheet produced by the veterans' agency.

The document does not say the deaths were directly caused by delays in providing medical tests. Rather, it says 76 patients with gastrointestinal cancer or their survivors were notified of adverse issues related to their care, and that 23 of them died.

Some of the deaths were already known.

An inspector general's report issued in September linked six patient deaths at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., to delayed colonoscopies or other screenings that could have detected early stages of colorectal cancers.

Other internal Veterans Affairs documents reported 19 patient deaths nationwide related to delayed endoscopic procedures, but the location of 10 of those deaths had not been previously disclosed.
The new document raises that total to 23. It does not disclose when the patients died. What it does show is the number of “institutional disclosures” related to delayed or improper care of patients with gastrointestinal cancers.

As noted in the IG’s report, early detection can reduce mortality of colorectal cancers by 70-80 percent. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the report.

The 23 deaths are only for patients with gastrointestinal cancers. Other patient deaths from Legionnaires' disease and inadequate mental health treatment have been disclosed at other veterans facilities, but are not discussed in the new report.

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