VA Medical Center Fined Over Botched Radiation Treatments

Last June, the prostate brachytherapy program at Philadelphia’s VA Medical Center was shut down after scores of veterans were found to have received <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/medical_malpractice">incorrect radiation doses over a six-year period. In response, the Center was assessed a $227,500 fine by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), said Philly.com. At last count, said Philly.com, 97 veterans received incorrect radiation doses.

The fine is, reported Philly.com, the second largest the Commission has ever levied against a medical facility. “The VA Philadelphia had a total breakdown in management oversight, a total breakdown in the program, and a total breakdown in safety culture that resulted in these egregious failures,” said Steve Reynolds, director of the division of nuclear material safety for NRC Region III, which handles oversight for the Veterans Health Administration, quoted Philly.com. The VA has 30 days to dispute the fine.

Prior to its shut down, 114 veterans were implanted with radioactive seeds from February 2002, said Philly.com. Of these, 11 had cancer recurrence, eight presented with symptoms that indicate a recurrence is imminent, and nine suffered rectal radiation injuries, said Philly.com, citing the VA. These reports prompted internal investigations, Congressional involvement, a probe by the Commission, a review spearheaded by the VA’s inspector general, and legal claims that continue, added Philly.com.

Some 31 veterans or their wives are seeking $58 million from the VA and two men just named Gary Kao, the VA’s radiation oncologist, in a suit filed in Philadelphia’s federal court, said Philly.com. One man—Barry Lackro—alleges the seeds were improperly implanted, causing excessive radiation doses to his rectum and bladder and inadequate dosing to his prostate: His “prostate cancer has returned”; “the healthy tissues of Mr. Lackro’s rectum and bladder have been damaged by radiation,” the complaint alleged, said Philly.com, quoting court papers.

“There were clearly missed opportunities in oversight from 2002 to 2008,” said Richard S. Citron, the Philadelphia VA director, reported Philly.com, which noted that the VA inspector general’s report is due out in April.

The Philadelphia program was managed by University of Pennsylvania doctors and is now viewed as “deeply flawed from the start,” said Philly.com with doctors not making corrective fixes when called for. In one case, 40 of 74 seeds meant for implantation in one man’s prostate were actually sent to his bladder; 45 of 90 seeds meant for another man’s prostate turned up in his bladder and close to his rectum, said Philly.com. This patient was just one of eight who had to undergo reimplantation in Seattle in 2009.

This is not the only debacle at the VA in recent months. We have also written about VA centers in three cities accused of reusing colonoscopy and endoscopy equipment without proper sanitation; dozens have since tested positive for blood borne pathogens. The VA also recently sent erroneous letters to veterans with potential neurological diagnoses, but who do not have ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—telling them they were diagnosed with the debilitating, deadly disease. Hundreds of veterans received the distressing letters.

The Washington Times previously reported that the VA Department’s agency chief Eric Shinseki acknowledged at a Congressional panel that the Department made serious safety errors at some of its centers and was lax in conducting necessary educational and monetary services to thousands of veterans. The veterans had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and who report suffering from symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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