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South Carolina

Deadly drug mix-up in veteran’s case at Dorn VA Medical leads to $800,000 settlement

A mix-up in syringes last year caused the death of a Columbia Air Force veteran who went to the Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Columbia seeking help, according to court records.

In a settlement this week, the federal government has agreed to pay $800,000 to relatives of Ralph Keogh, 64, who died February 2017 at the Dorn VA Medical Center on Garners Ferry Road.

The settlement of the medical malpractice claim was approved earlier this week by U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs.

Jones Andrews, the Columbia attorney who represented Keogh’s family, said the veteran’s family didn’t like suing the VA hospital but decided that filing suit underscored the gravity of the incident.

“(The) family wanted to find out what happened, and they wanted to know if the hospital was taking steps to make sure this wouldn’t happen again,” Jones said.

In a statement, a Dorn spokesman said, “The William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center is intent on providing the very best health care available to the men and women who serve this nation in the armed forces. Part of the health care system, private and public, includes accountability.

“Here, we worked with the veteran’s family and their attorney, and medical experts to settle this unfortunate case in a way that is meaningful to the veteran’s loved ones and improves the quality of care rendered at the Dorn VA Medical Center.”

In court records, the VA admitted no liability. Assistant U.S. Attorney Beth Drake represented the government.

It was a clear-cut case, Andrews said. “Records showed they gave the man the wrong medication. We have been told they have implemented policies and procedures that will, hopefully, curb this from happening again.”

The settlement means the case won’t go to trial, where evidence from both sides would have been presented and the public would have had a chance to learn exactly how the fatal error happened.

The evidence for the Keogh family would have included records from the Richland County coroner’s office, including autopsy and toxicology findings.

Also, a Georgia pharmacist expert, James Bartling, was ready to testify. He found Dorn “committed negligent acts or omission,” including failing to properly fill a prescription for Keogh, according to court records. That failure “contributed to the injuries and damages” that Keogh suffered, Bartling wrote in an affidavit.

Keogh died 11 days after he went to the Dorn VA Medical center with nausea and vomiting, according to court records.

To treat him, the VA staff administered multiple doses of a medication called pegfilgtastim, the lawsuit said. But, according to his family’s lawsuit, Keogh actually had been prescribed a medication with a similar name — filgrastim.

“The medication error caused Mr. Keogh to develop pulmonary toxicity, which led to acute respiratory distress syndrome or severe acute lung injury,” the lawsuit said.

Both medications, administered by syringe, stimulate the growth of white blood cells. But filgrastim, which Keogh was prescribed but not given, can be taken on a daily basis, said Andrews.

After receiving numerous doses of the wrong medication, Keogh “rapidly declined and died on Feb. 2, 2017,” the lawsuit said.

Keogh was a former computer programmer at BlueCross BlueShield, a devoted husband and father, and an active member of Shandon Baptist Church, where he helped program lights for the church’s annual Singing Christmas Tree event, according to his published obituary.

In November, the government paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit by another veteran, who claimed he was paralyzed after Dorn staff failed to treat his spinal injury.

The Dorn VA Medical Center, which is getting $114 million in new buildings and renovations, is the flagship hospital of the veterans-care system in South Carolina. With 2,700 employees and more than a half-dozen satellite clinics in the state, the VA system serves about 83,000 veterans each year.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the medication error involved pills. The medication was given by injection.

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