Ohio VA Clinic Paid $940K in Cases Over 8 Deaths

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid out $940,000 in cases related to the deaths of eight patients at the Dayton VA Medical Center, which came under scrutiny last year after allegations that a dentist at a clinic had used improper hygiene for years, according to public records obtained by a newspaper.

Records requested by the Dayton Daily News reveal the center in southwestern Ohio has faced 72 medical malpractice claims since 2007, including those related to eight deaths between 2005 and 2008. There are pending claims over two deaths in 2009 and 2010.

The hospital noted that the six dozen claims represent a tiny fraction of the 3 million instances of patient care logged during the same years.

“However small, one is too many,” the Dayton VA said in a statement. “We take all tort claims seriously.”

Twenty-two of the 72 claims involved the dental clinic, and most of those appeared to be linked to the infection control scandal that came to light last year, the newspaper said. Sixteen pending claims linked to the clinic seek a total of nearly $6.7 million.

Among the amounts already paid, the largest was $275,000 settling a federal lawsuit after the medical center was accused of not promptly diagnosing and treating an infection for a hip surgery patient that died in 2006. The other payments resulted from a VA process for resolving such malpractice tort claims.

The family of 68-year-old Clarice “Chuck” Pennington, who died of an internal hemorrhage after a liver biopsy in 2007, was paid $150,000. His wife, Virginia “Jenny” Pennington, said she learned nurses didn’t regularly check his vital signs in the hours before he died.

“If they would have checked on him like they should have … they would have known these things were happening,” she said.

The death of a patient who was assaulted by a resident in 2008 led to an award of $130,000, and $125,000 was paid out after the death of a patient who received an incorrect dosage of chemotherapy medication.

A report by the Government Accountability Office indicates the malpractice cases came amid an increase nationally in the number of federal tort claims filed against the VA in recent years, the newspaper said. That number rose from 1,251 in 2005 to 1,670 in 2010, when the total payouts from administrative resolutions and litigation totaled $79 million for the fiscal year.

The VA said it’s committed to transparency in caring for veterans and discloses potential adverse results so that veterans can file for damages.