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Fayetteville VA hospital: 'Impaired' pathologist misdiagnosed some patients

Joplin Globe - 6/19/2018

June 19--The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct a review of more than 30,000 cases as a result of possible misdiagnoses by an "impaired" pathologist that could affect veterans not just in the Fayetteville, Arkansas, area but in all of the Four-State Area.

The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks announced in a news release Monday it would review all cases the pathologist oversaw at its Fayetteville medical center and notify patients who may be affected. It also told The Associated Press that one error might have led to a death. The independent review will be conducted by a team of external pathologists.

The Fayetteville hospital provides care to veterans in Northwest Arkansas, Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri, serving 53,000 patients annually. The Joplin operation of Disabled American Veterans, a veterans support organization, said it transports three to five veterans per day to the hospital.

Medical center spokeswoman Wanda Shull said the pathologist was removed from clinical care in March 2016 after a colleague reported the pathologist was impaired on duty. The unidentified pathologist returned to work after completing the "Impaired Physician Program" but was removed from the clinic again last fall before being fired in April.

Shull said the pathologist handled 33,000 cases for nearly 19,800 veterans since 2005.

According to data provided by the VA, 43,781 veterans from 10 Southwest Missouri counties receive care from the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, which includes clinics in Mount Vernon and Branson. The department said Monday that approximately 2,300 veterans in Southwest Missouri will be affected by the review.

So far, a review of 911 cases has found seven misdiagnoses. With 33,000 cases to review, the effort will take several months. One case means one tissue sample that was tested, and a patient may have more than one case, Shull said.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long said in a statement what happened at the veterans hospital is appalling and inexcusable.

"I am working with my colleagues in Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma to rectify the situation and to make sure this type of egregious situation never happens again," Long said.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt also issued a statement, saying no veteran or their family should have to question the care they receive.

"There is no excuse for this kind of failure, and any employees involved must be held accountable," Blunt said. "I will continue working with the VA to make sure they are addressing this situation, and will support any legislation necessary to help prevent similar incidents in the future."

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill called the announcement disturbing.

"My staff has been in close contact with the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, and we'll be closely monitoring this review to ensure any affected Missourians get the proper notification, and if necessary -- treatment," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact numbers

Patients with questions may call 866-388-5428 or 479-582-7995 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.


(c)2018 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

Visit The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) at www.joplinglobe.com

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