FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Fayetteville VA was not tracking doctors’ performances as well as it should have been, according to the Office of the Inspector General. It is those same performance evaluations that former pathologist Robert Levy lied on to stay employed.
Army vet Juanita Harris had a calling to serve her country.
“I was a power generator mechanic for about 15 years,” she said.
After time in the army, she landed a job at the Fayetteville VA as the Secretary in Pathology. She was there when Dr. Robert Levy first started in 2005. But back then, she said a different pathologist was coming to work drunk, not Levy.
“He seemed fine. The one previous to him had problems, had serious problems, didn’t show up to work,” Harris said.
She says those problems almost lead to 300 medical specimens getting thrown away, meaning 300 people would have never gotten test results if it were not for Harris catching the mistake.
“I’m just an administrative secretary, no extra training, no medical training noticed that specimens are justing getting set there,” she said.
She says the VA awarded her for catching the problem. But now, 10 years later, Levy is the one drunk on the job and she is not convinced things have improved.
Levy was not fired until years after he was first caught intoxicated at work. By that point, he had already made fatal mistakes. So we looked into how the VA was reviewing his work.
A 2017 evaluation of Levy’s performance showed zero major discrepancies. But, the indictment says he manipulated that report and others, earning him financial bonuses. That same year, more reports surfaced of Levy being impaired at work, including claims he showed up to a meeting “appearing drowsy, having slurred speech patterns, repeating non-sense words and phrases and having an unsteady gait.”
So Levy’s work was reviewed again. On that evaluation from 2017, you can see handwritten notes that suggest a 5.3% major discrepancy rate, not the 0% that was originally reported. 5.3% is also more than 7 times higher than a suggested threshold of 0.7%.
Levy’s evaluations are not the only ones to raise concerns. The Office of the Inspector General says these evaluations, known as OPPEs, are “essential to confirm the quality of care delivered.” But a 2018 OIG review of the Fayetteville VA says “the OIG identified a deficiency in the ongoing professional practice evaluation process.”
The Fayetteville VA was giving doctors privileges to practice medicine at the facility without properly evaluating their work. This happened in 30% of the cases reviewed in the OIG report. So the OIG issued a “critical” recommendation to fix the problem, saying this would result “in providers continuing to deliver care without a thorough evaluation of their practice.”
Harris is frustrated as she fights her own medical battle. She is no longer an employee, but now a VA patient. She says her doctors cannot tell her what has been causing her symptoms for the past year. She is not convinced the VA’s problems are fixed, even with Levy gone.
“You have the doctor that performed the procedure, you have the doctor who sent you there that saw the symptoms you were having and they have to have some kind of responsibility in following up with you,” Harris explained.
So she wants to see a more extensive review.
“I think there were others involved that could’ve made a difference,” Harris said.
As for the flawed performance evaluations, the OIG made what is called a “critical recommendation for improvement.” So the Fayetteville VA implemented new practices to continuously collect data, Hold one-on-one reviews and have forms signed every six months. The OIG followed up and now considers this issued closed.
The Fayetteville VA sent KNWA News the following statement in regards to the Levy case:
“The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks is thankful this now former, fired employee will be brought to justice, and hopes this will bring some closure to Veterans and their families.
In response to this incident, the facility has instituted the following improvements:
· Implemented a VA-wide policy that requires facilities with two or less providers in any given specialty to have outside providers conduct peer reviews of that specialty, ensuring independent and objective oversight
· Increased oversight and monthly reporting of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine services to the Medical Executive Council
· Embedded a quality control analyst into the service for daily oversight of accrediting body standards”