The Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed Monday that the last remaining death in its Southeast Network of hospitals related to delays in gastrointestinal care happened at its medical center in Charleston, S.C.
The news, which comes after a nationwide review of VA medical records dating back to 1999, ends months of speculation that the death toll at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta could include a fourth cancer patient.
In a statement released Monday, the VA said its systemwide review continues and that in total 23 veteran deaths and 76 adverse incidents have been discovered primarily due to delays in gastrointestinal care.
Ten of those deaths and 30 of those incidents occurred in the VA’s Southeast Network, which includes nine facilities in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
Three deaths and seven incidents were in Augusta.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs cares deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve,” the statement read. “Our goal is to provide the best quality, safe and effective health care our veterans have earned and deserve. We take seriously any issue that occurs at any one of the more than 1,700 VA health care facilities across the country.”
As a result of VA officials first discovering in Augusta and Columbia that the two hospitals delayed more than 7,500 patients from receiving gastrointestinal consultations, the department launched a national review of the 250 million consultations opened since 1999.
The evaluation found that most of the delays, which included 5,100 in Augusta and 2,500 in Columbia, were not clinical in nature and as a result, not closed after completion.
To remedy the situation, the VA said it is rewriting its consult “business practices” and retraining staff to distinguish true clinical consultations from other administrative uses of the appointment system, such as electronic communications between health care providers and notes to reserve spots in transportation vehicles.
“Any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many,” the department said. “When an incident occurs in our system we aggressively identify, correct and work to prevent additional risks. We conduct a thorough review to understand what happened, prevent similar incidents in the future and share lessons learned across the system.”
Southeast Network adverse incidents
Facility Location Adverse events Deaths
Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Columbia, S.C. 20, 6
Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Augusta, Ga. 7, 3
Charleston VA Medical Center Charleston, S.C. 2, 1
Carl Vinson VA Medical Center Dublin, Ga. 0, 0
Atlanta VA Medical Center Atlanta 0, 0
Birmingham VA Medical Center Birmingham, Ala. 0, 0
Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center Tuscaloosa, Ala. 0, 0
Central Alabama Veterans System Montgomery and Tuskegee, Ala. 1, 0