Report faults care at Memphis VA Medical Center

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis VA Medical Center is drawing some criticism from the Office of Inspector General.

A recent report states the IG's office received a complaint in 2018 alleging delays in laboratory specimen processing "resulted in patient harm and possibly death."

Two inspections of the hospital were made, resulting in a 34-page document outlining allegations, concerns and a plan of action.

At any hospital, pathology results are critical in diagnosing a patient's illness, and this report addresses concerns about the performance of the Memphis VA Medical Center's pathology lab between 2016 and 2018.

The document looks closely at five key areas:

  • delays in specimen processing
  • staffing issues in the pathology department
  • quality management
  • staff competency and training
  • and whether facility leaders concealed pathology lab deficiencies.

The report comes as no surprise to VA whistleblower Sean Higgins, who worked at the VA and was known for publicly disclosing problems at the facility.

"They're saying the people aren't competent to run the tests in order to get a diagnoses. So, if you got a diagnosis, there's a good possibility you got the wrong diagnoses," he said.

Higgins says he worked in the VA's pathology lab and voiced his concerns about staffing and a lack of "quality control." He said those complaints fell on deaf ears.

"Now the IG says they couldn't confirm it. But I know for a fact that management was aware of it, because I reported it to management when I was there," Higgins said.

The report states the OIG team reviewed the electronic health records of 136 patients who had pathology processing delays and found none of them experienced "adverse" clinical outcomes.

The report did say, however, staffing was "deficient" and "inadequate."

Higgins wonders why it's taken the inspector general so long to investigate.

"These disclosures were made back in 2014 and 2015. So they're just getting around to them," he said.

Thursday afternoon the Memphis VA Medical Center responded, saying in part, "we appreciate the Office of Inspector General's oversight, which focuses on events that occurred nearly three years ago and found no negative impact on patient care."

Prior to the IG's involvement, Memphis VA Medical center had identified these issues internally and was already taking steps to address them.

The full report is below.

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