Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. — Administrators at the troubled Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center are answering a lot of tough questions this week from congressional committees.

Lawmakers want to know how a dentist was allowed to practice with equipment that put nearly 600 veterans at risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C and other infections.

They want to know why a veteran jumped out the window at the hospital while under the care of the embattled Tomah Veterans Assistance Foundation.

And they will most likely want to know why a 54-year-old woman is dead after ingesting multiple drugs on the hospital grounds.

Tomah VAMC Public Affairs Officer Matthew Gowan tells Wisconsin Watchdog that hospital officials are “doing multiple congressional briefings” this week to explain the fact that 592 veterans may have been exposed to infections because a dentist failed to follow standard infection control procedure for a year.

The dentist has since resigned.

Gowan reiterated that the health care provider’s resignation “does not mean accountability measures are going away.” The Tomah VA Medical Center spokesman said because the dentist resigned during a summary review hearing notice, he will automatically be reported to the national physician databank that includes malpractice records.

“We are going to be reporting that today,” Gowan said Tuesday.

But the veterans hospital will not release the dentist’s name. Gowan said the facility is bound by privacy laws.

Officials also are not identifying the name of the veteran who leaped out the third-story window of the medical center’s Building 407 last week.

Don Roach, executive director of the Veterans Assistance Program, had no comment on the “reason for the individual’s actions.” He would only say that the veteran was transported to Tomah Memorial Hospital.”

A source from the VAMC told Wisconsin Watchdog last week that the injuries were not life-threatening and that the man was in stable condition.

Victoria Brahm, acting director of the VA medical center, sent an email notifying employees of the incident.

“Early this morning a veteran from the Veterans Assistance Foundation program jumped out of the third floor window at the VAF day room,” she wrote in an email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog. “A medical emergency was called and the Veteran was sent via ambulance to Tomah Memorial Hospital where the Veteran is recovering from injuries sustained.”

On Tuesday, Gowan said he did not know the name of the veteran or his condition.


“The last I heard he was at a hospital in La Crosse,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to release it anyway. Any veteran coming into the area, into the medical center or our outpatient clinic has the expectation of privacy.”

The VAMC and the foundation are left to explain the death of 54-year-old Linda Purcell, who died Sept. 25 while staying at the foundation’s homeless shelter leased from the hospital.

An autopsy report determined the cause of death was a “combined toxicoligic process involving multiple drugs,” meaning Purcell took multiple medications at once, according to news reports.

The reports cast a wider shadow on a government-run medical center known as “Candy Land” for its practice of overprescribing opiod painkillers.

A 35-year-old Marine veteran died in August 2014 of a toxic cocktail of prescribed drugs while at the medical center.

This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org.

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