VA Fined For Faulty Cancer Treatments
March 22, 2010 – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) levied the second largest fine in its history for medical errors against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) last week. The Philadelphia VA Medical Center gave 97 veterans inaccurate doses of radiation. These mistakes have cost the VA $227,500 in fines.
The NRC based their fine, in part, on the VA’s complete lack of safeguards. The VA was completely deficient in ensuring and confirming that their treatments were performed properly, and never trained their staff properly, and failed to report their mistaken procedures as soon as they learned of the errors. According to the NRC, these violations are very serious and resulted in veterans receiving “substandard treatments.”
The veterans being treated suffered from prostate cancer and were undergoing brachytherapy, which is generally used on men with what is considered to be low-risk prostate cancer. Brachytherapy patients receive tiny, radioactive iodine pellets, called seeds, implanted in their prostate in hopes of killing cancer cells.
The VA investigated 116 veterans that underwent the procedure and found 97 were implanted with the incorrect dosage of seeds between 2002 and 2008. While some of the veterans received too much radiation, which affected tissue and organs close to the prostate, the majority of them received way below the prescribed dose. The Philadelphia VA Medical Center has since shut down its prostate cancer program.
These violations were considered so severe due to:
- The lack of managerial oversight;
- The lack of enough supervision to guarantee safe treatment of patients;
- The potential consequences to the patients; and
- The incredibly high number of these errant procedures.
The VA itself found these errors, exposed them to the NRC, closed the prostate treatment program, and fully cooperated with the NRC investigations, which at least means they are taking responsibility for the issues and will most likely pay the fines, although they can challenge it within the next 30 days.
It is troubling whenever a veteran does not receive the high level of care they deserve. These events, however, in no way reflect the care that is practiced at any VA Medical Facility, Philadelphia or otherwise.