U.S. seeks to throw out suit against VA hospital

The federal government is attempting to get a federal judge to throw out one of a pair of lawsuits filed by Kentucky women claiming that their husbands were killed by improper surgical care at a southern Illinois VA hospital. The government is asking that the judge kick the suit filed by Katrina Shank, whose husband, Robert Shank, bled to death in August after gallbladder surgery at the Marion, IL VA facility.

The government is arguing that Shank failed to file a required affidavit containing expert testimony that there is a reasonable basis for the suit. Shank's lawyer, in turn, has said that the affidavit is required in Illinois state court but not in federal court. Meanwhile, U.S. attorneys have asked for more time to respond to a similar suit filed by Darla Marshall, whose husband, James, died of a blood infection in July 2007, six days after a lymph node biopsy at the facility.

The Marion, IL facility involved in the lawsuits had previously been the target of an investigation by the VA's inspector general, after the VA's own surgical quality improvement program found that there was a higher than expected death rate between October 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007. The IG found four areas in which the Marion facility's employees had failed to meet federal and local regs and the VA's own rules, including that the facility sometimes did little to document physician credentials or adequately screen physicians before they were given privileges. In late 2007, VA officials removed several top physicians and administrative leaders from their positions.

To learn more about the cases:
- read this Chicago Tribune brief

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