Botched surgery at Memphis VA leads to amputation

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Errors and incidents keep piling up at the one-star Memphis VA Medical Center, where a botched surgery recently led to the amputation of a veteran's leg.

A veteran wound up having his leg amputated at a VA hospital after a previous procedure left plastic tubing in his artery. And that’s far from the first horror story to come out of the Memphis VA Medical Center.

The Memphis VA Medical Center scores only one out of five stars in the VA’s quality-of-care rankings, according to a USA Today article describing the facility’s shortcomings. A string of serious medical errors under investigation in 2016 included a perforated colon during a colonoscopy and a biopsy that had to be redone after the facility mishandled a tissue sample.

In the latest incident, a diabetic veteran wound up with 10 inches of plastic tubing embedded in an artery in his leg after VA doctors apparently failed to remove the protective cover from a catheter before inserting it. Surgeons found the tubing more than three weeks later when they amputated the leg, according to the article.

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Due to its poor safety and outcome measures, including strikingly high mortality rates after pneumonia treatment and acute care, acting Under Secretary for Health Poonam Alaigh gets weekly briefings on the hospital, according to the article. A VA review led to a new director in May and a series of staff changes that reportedly stemmed from issues in multiple departments, including surgery, nursing and human resources.

VA Secretary David Shulkin has made addressing issues such as these a priority, noting that in many cases, they have developed over many years. VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour told USA Today that the agency is committed to addressing issues at facilities that “need extra attention,” such as the one in Memphis.

“We are not hesitating to take swift accountability actions when warranted,” Cashour said.

Over the past several years, the VA has dealt with a series of challenges, highlighted by the 2014 scandal involving long wait times for appointments, which the agency continues to address.

In addition, the Veterans’ Choice program, put in place to improve access to care among veterans who had difficulty traveling to the nearest VA hospital, has proven so popular that it prematurely run out of funding, requiring emergency congressional assistance.