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Two More VA Hospital Deaths Under Investigation

April 22, 1991

CHICAGO (AP) _ Federal officials confirmed poor care was at least partly responsible for two more patient deaths at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, raising the number of such fatalities to eight.

Confirmation of the two additional deaths came Sunday from Edward Derwinski, the former Illinois congressman who is now secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Derwinski said the two additional deaths at the 1,004-bed hospital were under review, but he defended the general quality of care in the VA’s 172- hospital system.

Douglas Shouse, the public affairs officer at the medical center, said late Sunday the hospital had been informed, but the names of the additional patients and the dates of their deaths had not been released.

″We are awaiting further instructions and we should know more tomorrow,″ Shouse said in a telephone interview.

The hospital’s director, Al Pate, later said he was told of the two additional deaths on Friday. Pate, appointed director in December in a shakeup at the facility, said he expected to get the names of the two today, as well as details of their care.

The previous six fatalities under investigation occurred between June 1989 and March 1990.

The deaths were among 15 investigated by the VA inspector general’s office after Derwinski received an anonymous letter last summer complaining about hospital conditions.

All the deaths are to be discussed Wednesday at a House subcommittee hearing on the quality of VA health care nationwide.

In a report last month, VA investigators said the deaths appeared to result from misdiagnosis, use of the wrong treatments and surgical techniques and poor supervision of new doctors.

Since the report was issued, two high-risk forms of surgery have been discontinued at the hospital, other surgery has been placed under new supervision and the center’s former director has been reassigned.

Some VA surgeons are upset about being blamed for the deaths, insisting they gave the patients satisfactory care. A leader of a surgeon’s group said some doctors would go to court if the department tried to discipline them, the Chicago Tribune reported Sunday.