- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A top federal investigator cited the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in a letter to the president about the Department of Veterans Affairs not fully addressing whistleblower complaints about the quality of health care.

Central Alabama VA Director James Talton acknowledged the whistleblower complaint that Carolyn Lerner of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel addressed in her letter Monday to President Barack Obama. She wrote that it was “part of a troubling pattern of deficient patient care at VA facilities nationwide” and an example of the VA describing serious problems as harmless errors.

In Montgomery, Alabama, she said the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector confirmed a whistleblower’s allegation that a pulmonologist copied notes made by medical providers during previous visits to represent current readings in more than 1,200 patient records. She said that likely resulted in inaccurate patient health information being recorded, but the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector could not substantiate whether any patient’s health was endangered.

Talton said the review did determine that over a two-to-three year period, a VA pulmonologist did cut and paste medical notes from prior visits into reports on current patient visits in violation of VA policy. He said the pulmonologist remains with VA because the review did not find any adverse effects on veterans’ health, but the pulmonologist’s medical records are checked regularly to make sure no more “cutting and pasting” has occurred. Talton said he’s not aware of any more problems. He also said the pulmonologist had received good reviews from the patients he treated.

Talton said the notes that were copied were both by the pulmonologist and by other personnel who had seen patients.

In Lerner’s letter, she said the VA consistently acknowledges problems but says patient care is not affected.

Talton, 53, became the central Alabama VA director in July 2012 and has been trying to address a high turnover rate and other issues. The central Alabama VA has its main medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and outpatient clinics in Columbus, Georgia, as well as Monroeville, Fort Rucker and Dothan in Alabama. It serves nearly 45,000 veterans.

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