Review results

Consultation delays may have impacted the outcomes for 76 patients with gastrointestinal cancer at VA hospitals across the country. While the VA has conducted "institutional disclosure" meetings with several of those patients to inform them of their rights, 23 have died.

Charleston

Institutional disclosures: 2

Mortality: 1

Columbia

Institutional disclosures: 20

Mortality: 6

Augusta

Institutional disclosures: 7

Mortality: 3

A recent review of colon cancer cases at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center revealed one patient may have died more than three years ago because of a delay in care, a VA spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

"One is too many," hospital spokeswoman Tonya Lobbestael said. "We want very much to ensure that we continue our track record of providing the very highest level of care."

In an earlier, broader review of patient cases, the VA Medical Center in Charleston determined that two other patients may also have been impacted by delays in care. Neither of those patients died, Lobbestael said. Both are currently receiving treatment for their conditions.

A national review conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found 76 patients across the country whose outcomes may also have been affected because consultations with VA health care providers were not conducted quickly enough.

The consultation process at VA hospitals across the country has since been redesigned "to better monitor timeliness," a report about the national review indicated.

The Veterans Health Administration scheduled or attempted to schedule meetings with each of those patients or their families in a process called "institutional disclosure."

During those meetings, Lobbestael explained that the patient and his or her family were informed of their right to request compensation through the Veterans Benefits Administration and to file a tort claim.

Twenty-three of those 76 patients, including three in Augusta and six in Columbia, died. Lobbestael said it is not possible to determine if a delay in treatment caused the Charleston death, but it could have been a contributing factor.

The results of the national review were made public Monday by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said in a prepared statement that VA employees need to be held responsible for the deaths.

"Unfortunately, we haven't seen any evidence so far indicating that preventable deaths at VA facilities result in serious discipline for the employees responsible," Miller said. "In fact, if you look at recent VA preventable deaths linked to mismanagement - in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Columbia, S.C., Augusta, Ga., and Memphis, Tenn. - VA executives who presided over negligence are more likely to have received a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment."

The VA Medical Center in Charleston treats 53,000 veterans in South Carolina and Georgia, according to the hospital's website.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.