One neurosurgeon had over a dozen malpractice claims in two states, including accusations his surgeries left patients paralyzed or dead.
USA Today has done an excellent investigation into the Department of Veteran Affairs. Its latest bombshell shows that the VA has hired doctors they know have malpractice claims and felony convictions. How could this possibly happen? A not so thorough hiring process:
Applications are vetted, education and licenses verified, references checked, and interviews conducted. For clinical hires, a review and approval by a professional standards board also is required.
But when applicants disclose prior problems with medical licensing short of revocation, malpractice or criminal histories, VA hospital officials have discretion to weigh the providers’ explanations and approve their hiring anyway.
There’s another reason why those with shady pasts find the VA so welcoming:
Agency clinicians aren’t required to have malpractice insurance — the federal government pays out claims using taxpayer dollars — making the VA a good fit for providers who may have difficulties securing malpractice insurance in the private sector if past issues have rendered them too risky.
Yes, OUR tax money pays the claims for this horrible doctors who mistreat our veterans, the people who in this country deserve the absolute best care.
Neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider
Look at neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider. He applied for a job at the VA in Iowa City, IA, and told them up front that Montana and Wyoming revoked his medical license. Why did the state do that? USA Today explained:
Neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider racked up more than a dozen malpractice claims and settlements in two states, including cases alleging he made surgical mistakes that left patients maimed, paralyzed or dead.
He was accused of costing one patient bladder and bowel control after placing spinal screws incorrectly, he allegedly left another paralyzed from the waist down after placing a device improperly in his spinal canal. The state of Wyoming revoked his medical license after another surgical patient died.
Schneider’s troubles in Montana started almost right away after he began performing surgeries in 1997 when patient Jason Zimmerman’s family rushed him to the ER:
He had excess fluid building up around his brain that was creating dangerous intracranial pressure, according to court records. A tube and valve system that had been implanted to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid had malfunctioned.
His family sued Schneider and a practice partner alleging they provided substandard care and Zimmerman suffered “profound neurological injury” that left him permanently impaired, the complaint says.
He and his family members ultimately dropped their malpractice suit because they worried Zimmerman’s prior substance abuse would impede the case, his sister Wendy Conaway told USA TODAY. Schneider blamed his partner for the injuries.
He faced FOUR malpractice claims in FIVE years in Montana, including one from a wife whose husband died “from complications after four surgeries.”
So Schneider went to Wyoming. He even established Northern Rockies Insurance Company that provided him with malpractice insurance. To absolute no one’s shock, that move “eventually helped land him in bankruptcy and unable to pay off his claims.”
Between 3006 and 2012 he faced at least EIGHT malpractice claims. One patient died:
The case that captured the attention of Wyoming Board of Medicine officials was Russell Monaco, a father of two who went under Schneider’s knife in 2011 for a procedure to decrease pressure on nerves in his lower back, according to a wrongful death suit filed by his wife, Kathy.
After the operation, he was prescribed a litany of narcotics that can depress breathing, including fentanyl, oxycodone, valium, and Demerol. Monaco’s oxygen levels dropped dangerously low, but Schneider discharged him anyway, medical board records show.
He went home and took the medications as prescribed, the lawsuit says, but his family found him dead the next morning. The coroner determined the cause of death was “mixed drug overdose.”
“I tried to wake him up and yelled and the girls came down screaming,” his wife, Kathy Monaco, told USA TODAY. “It was horrible, I mean, I live that day over every day.”
USA Today easily found this information. Despite all of this information readily available, the VA hired him! Do you think Schneider changed his ways? Nope:
He started work in April at a hospital that serves 184,000 veterans in 50 counties in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.
Some of his patients already have suffered complications. Schneider performed four brain surgeries in a span of four weeks on one 65-year-old veteran who died in August, according to interviews with Schneider and family members. He has performed three spine surgeries on a 77-year-old Army veteran since July — the last two to try and clean up a lumbar infection from the first, the patient said.
Authorities arrested Schneider in September “on federal criminal charges of lying and trying to conceal assets in his bankruptcy case in Montana.”
When he returned to Iowa, he told his bosses what happened and they allowed him to keep practicing!
USA Today spoke to a few of Schneider’s patients that had complications after their surgeries.
Schneider performed a surgery to retrieve a benign tumor in Richard Joseph Hopkins’ brain over this summer. But complications led to three more surgeries and Hopkins passed away from an infection.
James Wehmeyer had an operation on his spine over the the summer, but Schneider had to perform two more surgeries due to infections. He had his last surgery last month, but still has a gaping wound that a nurse has to clean out every three days.
USA Today reported that “three other patients suffered infections after procedures Schneider conducted at the Iowa City VA – two deep-wound and one superficial – but they were cured with antibiotics.”
Other Horrible Hirings
A VA hospital in Muskogee, OK, hired a psychologist that received sanctions before for sleeping with a patient. The officials hired him anyway:
The VA hospital in Muskogee, Okla., hired a psychiatrist in 2013 with multiple disciplinary actions against his Oklahoma license, including for sexual misconduct, according to internal documents obtained by USA TODAY.
Hospital officials knew about his past, but approved his hiring anyway with the condition he be closely monitored during his probation period, the documents show.
And yet the psychiatrist, Stephen Lester Greer, went on to have a sexual relationship with a VA patient and ended up pleading guilty in August to witness tampering for trying to persuade the patient to lie about it to federal investigators.
A VA hospital in Lafayette, LA, hired a psychologist with felony convictions:
The VA hired a psychologist to work at a clinic in Lafayette, La., in 2004, despite his revealing previous felony convictions on his application, according to the internal documents, which don’t identify the provider by name. The VA didn’t run a criminal background check until a year after he started work. It showed eight arrests, including for burglary, drug dealing and reckless driving resulting in death.
Still the VA allowed him to continue practicing until two years ago. By that time, the VA had received multiple complaints about patient mistreatment by the psychologist. An internal investigation found he was a “direct threat to others, (and) to the Department’s mission.” The VA fired him earlier this year.
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