The Commercial Appeal: Alexander, Corker ask VA for details on Memphis hospital changes

Posted on May 16, 2014

WASHINGTON — Tennessee’s two U.S. senators want to know what changes have been made at the Memphis VA Medical Center following an inspector general’s report last fall that three patients died in the facility’s emergency department after receiving inadequate care.

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Maryville and Bob Corker of Chattanooga sent a letter Thursday to Robert A. Petzel, the Veterans Affairs Department’s undersecretary for health, requesting an update on the implementation of recommendations made in the inspector general’s report.

“As you know, the OIG has verified many troubling allegations at the MVAMC Emergency Department,” the senators wrote. “Our veterans deserve the best possible care available, and incidents like these and allegations of delayed care leading to the deaths of veterans at the Phoenix VA Health Care System are deeply troubling.”

The letter went out on the same day that Petzel and Veterans Affairs’ Secretary Eric K. Shinseki faced blistering criticism from the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee over reports of neglect at some VA medical facilities, including allegations that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments in Phoenix.

On Friday, Shinseki announced he has accepted Petzel’s resignation.

In their letter, Alexander and Corker asked the VA to provide them with information on any other issues preventing veterans from receiving “timely and appropriate care” at the Memphis medical center.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that the VA present a transparent accounting of the issues it faces and the steps it will take to address these challenges,” the letter said.

Earlier this week, Alexander and Corker also wrote to Shinseki and asked for specific information regarding the average time Tennesseans are waiting for care at VA facilities.

The inspector general’s report, released last October, concluded that three patients at the Memphis clinic died after receiving inadequate care.

One patient had a fatal drug reaction after being given medication despite a documented drug allergy. A second patient died after receiving multiple sedating medications after complaining of neck pain. The third had critically high blood pressure but was not aggressively treated and subsequently died with blood in the brain.

The report found there were inadequate monitoring capabilities in the department and also recommended the completion of “specific competency assessments” by the department’s nursing staff.

A spokesman for the Memphis VA Medical Center did not respond Friday to a request for comment.