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VA: No Proof Delayed Medical Care Caused Deaths in Phoenix

Investigators found no conclusive proof that delays in medical care caused patient deaths at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, even though some patients died while waiting for appointments and delays “adversely affected” the quality of care, according to a report released Tuesday by the VA’s inspector general.

Dr. Sam Foote, a whistleblower at the Phoenix VA, had charged in February that up to 40 patients may have died waiting for appointments.

But even though the inspector general’s review of more than 3,000 patient records found six patients who died after “clinically significant delays in care” and 14 instances in which patients died after “care deficiencies that were unrelated to access or scheduling,” the report did not find that the problems caused the deaths.

“While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans,” the report stated.

In a memorandum submitted to the Office of the Inspector General in response to its findings, and published in the media prior to the official release of the report, VA Secretary Robert McDonald specifically noted that investigators had been unable to prove Dr. Foote’s allegation of 40 deaths potentially linked to the problems.

Both McDonald’s memo and the OIG report implied that Foote’s charge was not provable in part because he didn’t provide a list of 40 deceased patients’ names.

In a statement emailed to NBC News, Foote questioned VA’s and VA OIG’s thoroughness in investigating the issue, and claimed that a lack of evidence that delays caused patient deaths did not prove that such deaths did not occur.

“Clearly, the intent of releasing this document early was to get positive spin going for the release of the actual report,” Foote wrote, “as well as to exonerate the VA from any liability for wrongful deaths or reckless endangerment.”

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IN DEPTH

-- Rich Gardella