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Derwinski Says Bad Care is Not Widespread at VA Hospitals

April 24, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Poor care that contributed to the deaths of eight veterans at an Illinois hospital is not a pattern nationwide, but ″there’s much to be done,″ Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward Derwinski said Wednesday.

″The implications of the North Chicago situation and how they may relate to the whole VA medical system haven’t been lost on us,″ Derwinski told a House subcommittee. ″We’re determined that there be no more North Chicagos.″

But Derwinski was challenged by Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, D-Mass., who said the investigation in Illinois ″may just be the tip of the iceberg.″

″There is not a month that goes by where my office does not hear from a veteran complaining of some kind of mistreatment″ at a VA medical center, Kennedy said.

Derwinski, joined by top VA doctors and his inspector general, Stephen Trodden, was summoned to Capitol Hill to discuss Trodden’s recent 111-page report that detailed surgical mistakes, treatment delays, wrong tests and poor supervision of doctors at North Chicago.

The Veterans Affairs Department has labeled eight deaths at the 1,004-bed hospital as ″therapeutic misadventures″ and opened compensation talks with the victims’ families.

Vietnam Veterans of America has asked for a criminal investigation, and said North Chicago should be temporarily closed. Trodden said he was not referring any of the eight deaths to the Justice Department, but some doctors will be punished administratively.

Rep. G.V. ″Sonny″ Montgomery, D-Miss., chairman of the Veterans Affairs hospitals subcommittee, asked if mistakes at North Chicago represented an ″infection″ throughout the 172 VA hospitals.

″I certainly hope not,″ Derwinski said. ″There may be individual cases. But I’m not aware of any information ... that the pattern of medical care, or lack thereof, that was shown in this report is found anywhere else in our system.″

He said his department is drafting a checklist that will be used to measure the quality of care at all VA hospitals.

North Chicago, he said, will be a ″catalyst for obtaining improvements necessary throughout the system. ... There’s much to be done, frankly.″

Vascular and orthopedic surgeries have been discontinued at the hospital. The chief of staff has been demoted, and North Chicago’s former director, now at VA headquarters here, has been reassigned.

Outside the hearing room, the VA’s chief attorney, Raoul Carroll, said families of two patients filed claims against the government after the department acknowledged poor care contributed to their deaths.

One claim seeks $500,000 and the other seeks $750,000, he said.

If the VA disagrees with the amount, families can settle the dispute with a lawsuit in federal court.

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