An explosive USA Today investigation into medical mistakes allegedly made under the watch of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs highlighted what the newspaper described as one particularly egregious case in Maine.
According to the report, podiatrist Thomas Franchini allegedly made mistakes in 88 cases while working at the Togus VA Medical Center near Augusta, the nation’s oldest veterans’ hospital.
“We found that he was a dangerous surgeon,” former hospital official Robert Sampson said during a deposition in a federal lawsuit against the department, according to the newspaper.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, described the case as “unacceptable behavior” and called the situation “nothing short of appalling” in a Thursday statement.
USA Today’s report describes myriad examples: Franchini allegedly drilled the wrong screw into the bone of one patient, severed a tendon in another, conducted unnecessary surgeries and twice failed to properly fuse a woman’s ankle, for instance.
Instead of being fired, the newspaper’s investigation found, the department didn’t report him as a problem doctor or fire him, but rather allowed him to quietly resign and open a private practice in another state.
The Franchini case was revealed as part of an investigation that uncovered about 230 secret settlement deals in which VA officials quietly cut ties with problem doctors and other medical staff across the country, allegedly promising to conceal serious mistakes and allow many of the personnel in question to go into the private sector with unblemished records.
Franchini, who was reportedly placed on leave by the VA in 2010 and resigned soon thereafter, told USA Today he never got to respond to the department’s findings that he’d made serious mistakes, and that his attorney submitted two outside reviews that contradicted those findings.
He also said he has performed many surgeries since leaving the VA without complications.
“If I was so bad, I would be bad all the time,” he told USA Today.
Six veterans are now suing the VA accusing the agency of fraudulently concealing Franchini’s mistakes.
In response to the report, Poliquin, who represents Maine’s 2nd congressional district, announced Thursday he is joining fellow Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Phil Roe of Tennessee to introduce a bill that would force agency officials to report to state licensing boards if they discover “unacceptable or unethical behavior from other medical professionals at the VA.”
“Our Maine veterans depend on their services at Togus and other VA facilities across our state for critical care, and it is absolutely unacceptable for them to ever be subjected to medical malpractice,” Poliquin said in a statement. “We must have accountability at the VA, to ensure our veterans are always getting the best care possible, and I am proud to be working on the Veterans Affairs’ Committee to do that.”