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February 1, 2015

Wisconsin pediatric flu deaths climb to five

The state Department of Health Services says five children have died this flu season.

According to a weekly report released by the agency, three more children have died as a result of complications due to the illness. That brings the total for the state this flu season to five pediatric deaths, the second highest in the nation. Only Texas has had more, with seven.
Nationwide, there have been 56 pediatric deaths tied to the flu this season.

Since October 4, there have been 3,437 hospitalizations in the state from the flu. Of those, 387 people were admitted to intensive care. Officials say this year’s flu vaccine has not been a good match for the predominant flu strain, although they are still urging people to get vaccinated because some protection is better than none.

Lead VA investigator to visit Tomah

The lead federal investigator into alleged over prescribing of painkillers at Tomah’s Veterans Administration Medical Center will be in Tomah on Friday afternoon. Dr. Carolyn Clancy’s review is expected to take 30 days. It comes after the former Tomah VA chief of staff, Doctor David Houlihan, was suspended. Houlihan had previously been reassigned. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald issued on order on Monday for a full review of opiate pain medication practices at the Tomah Center.

The Center for Investigative Reporting said the numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004 to 2012, even as the numbers of veterans seeking care declined. According to the report, workers who raised questions about patients being “doped-up” were punished. A Marine died last August from an overdose.

Wisconsin DNR may do analysis of frac sand industry

WisconsinDNRThe state Natural Resources Board may approve a DNR analysis of frac sand mining Wisconsin. The Board will consider whether the DNR should update information on the industry this week. It’s in response to a petition from Midwest Environmental Advocates, where Jimmy Parra is staff attorney.

“MEA and some citizens who live near frac sand mines got together, and we developed a petition to ask the DNR to do a strategic analysis,” Parra said. “The scope hasn’t really been set. In the petition, we outlined a lot of what we think a strategic analysis should address.”

Parra said that scope would likely exceed what the agency has done in the past. “They (DNR) did do a study in 2012, on frac sand mining. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a study. What it was, was a summary of available information about frac sand mining.”

Industrial frac sand mining as grown dramatically in Wisconsin in recent years, due to demand for the sand during North Dakota’s oil boom. Mine operators have often found themselves at odds with neighbors and local governments, due to concerns about the noise produced by trucks hauling the sand and the dust kicked up as part of the mining process. Several communities have moved to restrict the development of new mines, including passing moratoriums on new permits.

The Natural Resources Board will consider the recommendation for an analysis at its monthly meeting in Madison on Wednesday.

Tomah VA probed for overmedication allegations

David Houlihan (Facebook photo via Center for Investigative Reporting)

David Houlihan (Facebook photo via Center for Investigative Reporting)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an immediate investigation into allegations of over-medication and a hostile, retaliatory work environment at the Tomah VA Medical Center. Also, Tomah Chief of Staff, psychiatrist David Houlihan, has been removed from the facility.

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse), whose district includes the VA hospital in Tomah, is in Wisconsin just a few days after asking for an official investigation into the increased use of opiates at that veterans facility. This discrepancy came to light after a federal whistle-blower complaint was filed.

“I’ve reached out to that individual, too, to have conversations. I wanna sit down with that individual to get more information as far as what he saw and what he may have witnessed himself while at the VA.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting said the numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004 to 2012, even as the numbers of veterans seeking care declined. According to the report, workers who raised questions about patients being “doped-up” were punished. A Marine died last August from an overdose.

The La Crosse Democrat had meetings scheduled at the VA hospital. “Trying to reach out to other people who might have first hand knowledge of what they saw occuring in Tomah.”

An investigation aims to find out how something like this could go on for such a long period of time. “That’s a great question,” Kind says. “That’s one of the questions I’m going to have actually for (Tomah VA) Director Mario DeSanctis if these allegations are true … what steps are being taken internally right there in Tomah to look into this.”

He cautions, there are two sides to every story.

On Tuesday, Senator Baldwin sent a letter to federal VA Secretary Robert McDonald expressing her concerns. She says the high-level investigation will be conducted by the Veterans Health Administration and the Office of Accountability Review.

“I spoke to Secretary McDonald this morning and he informed me that he is taking these allegations very seriously and is immediately launching a thorough investigation,” said Baldwin. “In addition, he has decided to remove the Tomah Chief of Staff from the facility and bar him from seeing patients and writing prescriptions. These are important initial steps and I will closely monitor the investigation’s progress and work to ensure that its scope and resulting remedial actions will achieve and maintain the goal of providing the timely, highest-quality care that our Wisconsin veterans have earned.”

Kind will hold a press conference on Friday at his office in La Crosse to provide updates and discuss what needs to be done to determine the extent of the problem and swiftly resolve it.

Kind sent a letter on Monday to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs requesting a formal investigation. He wants to know whether this is Tomah-specific, whether it’s system-wide in the VA, or whether it’s a problem throughout the entire health-care system.

Congressman Ron Kind calls for investigation at Tomah VA

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) wants to get to the bottom of allegations that the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Tomah has been over-prescribing opiates to its patients.

The La Crosse Democrat on Monday sent a letter to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs requesting a formal investigation of what he calls “serious allegations” of over-prescribing painkillers at the facility. “And not just focused on Tomah.” But, he wants to see “if this is something more system-wide throughout the entire VA medical system throughout the country on our treatment of veterans, especially with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

Kind, whose district includes the VA hospital in Tomah, says every veteran deserves the best care possible, so the top priority needs to be “determining what the problem is and resolving it immediately.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting said the numbers of opiate prescriptions at Tomah grew by over 500 percent from 2004-to-2012, even as the numbers of veterans seeking care declined.

AUDIOKind responds to the report of over-prescribed painkillers at Tomah. :63

Kind also wants to know what, if anything, is being done about it. “What steps have been taken to start implementing the inspector general’s report that came out in the spring of 2014?”

If something isn’t working well in the delivery of medical services, Kind says, “We need to know about it and we need to fix it immediately.”

According to the report, workers who raised questions about patients being “doped-up” were punished. A Marine died last August from “mixed drug toxicity” — or an overdose. The information came to light after a federal whistle-blower complaint was filed.