It’s time for this week’s edition of Investigative Roundup, gathering some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare from around the country.
VA’s Parking Lot Suicides
From October 2017 to November 2018, 19 people committed suicide on Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical campuses — including seven who took their lives in VA parking lots, according to The Washington Post.
One such death at a Minneapolis VA facility spurred a federal investigation. A 33-year-old Iraq war veteran named Justin Miller told a family member he had PTSD and was suicidal. While deployed, he’d been ordered to kill someone on the battlefield. Miller called a VA crisis hotline and told the responder he had access to firearms. He was told to have someone take those firearms and come to the VA hospital, where he was admitted. Four days later, he was discharged as an “intermediate/moderate risk” for suicide.
Miller went to his truck in the parking lot and shot himself.
The investigation found multiple errors including “not scheduling a follow-up appointment, failing to communicate with his family about the treatment plan, and inadequately assessing his access to firearms.” This investigation led to a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Many experts think that these deaths are a “form of protest” against a system they believe failed them, according to the Post. The VA said it stopped 233 suicide attempts on hospital grounds during the October 2017-November 2018 period.
Renowned Researcher’s Sex Abuse Implications
Buzzfeed News examines the responsibilities of scientific institutions and journals and what they might do about work conducted by a renowned researcher who is now accused, posthumously, of sexual abuse against his former patients who were children at the time.
Reginald Archibald was a well-known figure in child growth and biochemistry at Rockefeller University — specifically, research about children who were small for their age. Last year, Rockefeller acknowledged that he might have “engaged in certain inappropriate conduct during patient examinations.”
One victim recalls that Archibald “began touching and rubbing his genitals. Archibald took close-up photos of his penis and asked him to pose for others while standing against a wall, hands open and legs slightly apart.” This story is echoed in other accounts of Archibald’s conduct by dozens of others who are now adults, including one instance of the patient ejaculating during fondling.
While the almost 150 victims are seeking justice through the legal system, Rockefeller and the journals that published 19 of Archibald’s papers have to reckon with the ethical implications of these accusations. Radiology has taken action and the March of Dimes, which published a now-defunct journal in which Archibald’s work appeared, promised to do likewise.
$65-Million Cream Scheme
The Tennessean in Nashville reported on a “compounded medication” scheme that took advantage of a TRICARE loophole, bilking the Pentagon of $65 million.
The fraud centered on Choice MD — a clinic in Tennessee where a nurse practitioner admitted to conducting false telemedicine evaluations with Marines in California, after which doctors wrote almost 4,500 cream prescriptions costing taxpayers $14,500 each. The Marines, some of whom were allegedly told it was part of a drug trial, could receive payments of up to $300 per month. Two Choice MD physicians and the NP have pleaded guilty, as did a former Marine who led recruitment in California. The clinic owners still face charges and have pleaded not guilty.
After a similar scheme with some $400 million in billings was exposed in Mississippi, prosecutors secured guilty pleas from seven individuals, The Tennessean noted.
Accusations of foreign influence aren’t just for politics anymore — government-funded medical research is under scrutiny, too. STAT News reports that the National Institute of Health requested that the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general investigate 12 suspected cases of foreign influence on U.S. research.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has been pressuring the NIH for more information after the agency said it was investigating researchers who may have failed to disclose substantial contributions from foreign governments.
Inspector General Daniel Levinson remains tight-lipped on details of the investigation, leaving room for speculation on what the allegations are and the alleged misconduct that took place.