After more than a month, Oklahoma City VA hospital heart program still closed

Since October, five heart patients at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center died within 30 days of their surgeries.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: July 26, 2014 at 1:13 am •  Published: July 25, 2014
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The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center must implement changes handed down from a national Veterans Affairs review team before staff can reopen the hospital’s heart surgery program.

Since October, five heart patients at the Oklahoma City VA died within 30 days of their surgeries, prompting the temporary closure of the program in early June.

A review team from the VA’s National Surgery Office came to Oklahoma City in early July and issued recommendations about what needs to be done to reopen the program.

Dr. Mark Huycke, the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center’s chief of staff, said he anticipates the hospital’s cardiac surgery program will reopen in the coming weeks once staff members implement the recommendations.

Huycke declined to share those recommendations, citing a federal regulation that exempts the information from a Freedom of Information Act request.

“When we feel we have in place those things they want us to put in place before resuming surgery, we will seek approval from our network in Jackson, Miss., and they will look at what we’ve done, and we will certify to them that we’ve got things in place as requested,” Huycke said. “Once they agree, they will give us the green light to resume the program.”

Other reviewers found that none of the Oklahoma City surgeons acted improperly.

Since the program was halted, the Oklahoma City VA has referred two patients to the Houston VA and eight patients to local community hospitals to receive care. VA staff plans to send a ninth patient to a local hospital next week, hospital spokeswoman Stacy Rine said.

Huycke said this was the first time in his five years as chief of staff that the National Surgery Office has halted and reviewed an Oklahoma City VA surgical program.

Death prompts review

The hospital’s heart surgery program was halted after leaders from the Oklahoma City and regional VA network learned of a fifth patient’s death after surgery in June. Leaders at the regional and state level then requested the National Surgery Office review the program and the recent deaths.

Documents received by The Oklahoman in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show the fifth veteran died after a surgery that went well. The veteran was in the intensive care unit and then died after his or her blood pressure spiked well above normal levels.

Dr. Gregg Parker, the chief medical director of the South Central VA Health Care Network, wrote in an email June 10 to other medical professionals in the VA system that the Oklahoma City VA’s heart surgery program was being halted pending a review from the National Surgery Office, in part, because the regional network didn’t have the expertise to perform the review internally.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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A closer look

These documents were included in 21 pages of records provided to The Oklahoman after a Freedom of Information Act request to the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center concerning the hospital’s cardiac surgery program. Several of the pages are heavily redacted to obscure information that VA officials said could result in “an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s personal privacy.”

There’s transparency there. We want to make sure we’re doing everything properly, and we’re delivering quality care to veterans.”

Dr. Mark Huycke,,
the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center’s chief of staff

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