VA Will Soon Send Investigative Team To Tomah Medical Center

Center Is Under Scrutiny After Reports Of Over-Medication, Hostile Work Environment Surface

Photo: Tomah VA Medical Center Website

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will soon be sending a team to the Tomah VA Medical Center to conduct two separate investigations into possible misconduct.

The VA will investigate whether some Tomah VA health officials have been over-prescribing medications and if certain staff created a culture of intimidation. A recent news report from the Center for Investigative Reporting suggests that staff who questioned prescription practices faced retaliation.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said he’s disappointed VA leadership was not forthcoming about potential problems over the last year. He said the new investigations should bring changes if they’re necessary.

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“People who are seeing how patients are being treated don’t have an avenue to offer their opinions on a constructive basis and say, ‘You know, you may want to be considering this or that.’ Instead they’re being shot down or retaliated against. that’s unacceptable,” said Kind.

Tomah VA’s chief-of-staff Dr. David Houlihan, a psychiatrist, has been reassigned indefinitely to a regional VA office. He will not be seeing patients or prescribing medications while the VA looks into to accusations that he created a hostile work environment and prescribed a high number of opiates.

The upcoming investigations follow one completed last year by the VA’s Office of Inspector General. It found high rates of opiate prescriptions at the Tomah VA compared to other regional facilities, but no wrongdoings.

The OIG’s study was presented to Tomah VA officials last June, but didn’t make it much further. Kind said OIG dropped the ball by not informing his office and others about the results of that investigation.

According to the VA, administrative actions were taken at the Tomah VA following last year’s OIG investigation.

“Clinically complex patients” were removed from Dr. Houlihan’s and his nurse practitioner’s care based on the amount of opiates they were prescribing. A physician was designated to oversee pain-management care for patients with high levels of medications. Pharmacy staff were also given a new avenue to appeal clinical decisions if they disagreed with how many medications were being prescribed to individual veterans.