Pharmacist says he was fired for blowing whistle on McGuire VA Hospital

Published: Jul. 29, 2015 at 8:38 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2015 at 8:38 PM EDT
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Carmichael says this image he took shows fungus growing from alcohol dispensers inside the IV...
Carmichael says this image he took shows fungus growing from alcohol dispensers inside the IV room. (Credit: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A pharmacist fired by McGuire VA Hospital wants his job back, and he exposes more scandal at the medical center that's taking care of our veterans.

The doctor alleges patient safety problems, waste of your tax dollars, and mismanagement of pharmacy services. Director John Brandecker has yet to address a scandal on camera. His email says in part, it's an employment-related matter, he's not able to comment and patient safety is McGuire's highest priority.

The whistle-blowing pharmacist talks about four areas.

Allegation One: Failure to restock unused medications. Dr. Andrew Carmichael collected pictures of trash bags filled with medicines he says should have been reshelved

"It's hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medications," Dr. Carmichael says. "Your money. My money. Other people's money, just sitting in these bags because of poor management. They don't know how to put it up and they won't hire people.

He goes on, "They just stuff them in the manager's offices and they stuff them into cubby holes, and they stuff them in janitor closets. That way if someone comes to audit the VA, they can close the door. Lock it and hide it."

Allegation Two: Dangerous workload. Carmichael says he repeatedly emailed and talked with supervisors. He says he and a co-worker checked a thousand orders in four to seven hours. Two hundred is typically deemed safe.

"You start adding a hundred orders on top of phone calls and try to check other things, it's a recipe for disaster. It causes errors, because you're trying to splice yourself into multiple people."

He says McGuire said it was a training issue, and they have enough staff. Things escalated when he says he refused to check a technician's work and a superior wrote him up.

Carmichael says, "So, you're telling me I have no right over my individual license? I have to break my oath as a pharmacist and I have no refusal to check something I find dangerous? That's ridiculous. How do I appeal? She wouldn't tell me."

The Medical Director's statement in part says "employees who have concerns regarding patient safety issues ... have multiple internal and external channels through which to address those concerns."

Carmichael says he exhausted them all, and now his career is on the line, because he had the guts to whistle blow.

He adds, "It's someone's life. Someone's health. These people are putting their faith in your hands to take care of them. I can't throw that all out the window for a paycheck."

In turn, Carmichael says McGuire fired him in front of co-workers with a police escort, for others to see what happens when you whistle blow. McGuire contends he was fired for cause.

"I don't have any high confidence that anyone who has retaliated against me will be punished in any way," he says.

Allegation Three: Mishandling of controlled substances.  He alleges there's no oversight to prevent diverted or stolen drugs.

"I didn't want to have to go this route, I really didn't. I wanted them to fix it. That's really all I've asked them to do this whole time, is just fix these things."

Allegation Four: The most serious issue, Carmichael says, is the condition of the pharmacy's IV room, where IV bags are made.  He provided pictures of alleged patient safety issues, which prompted the FDA to open an investigation.

"This is where they're going to hook your IV in, and it's laying on these dirty shelves. This is fungus growing from alcohol dispensers inside the IV room. That's how neglectful it was," he says, showing the pictures. He says federal guidelines are not followed and there's no quality control. "This room had to be as clean as an O.R."

Carmichael alleges IV medicines are compromised by habits as simple as improper cleaning and maintenance.

"Laminate peeling off the walls within the room where you are actually compounding these medications."

Carmichael says he vividly recalls a construction crew drilling holes in the ceiling while IV's were being made.

"Should families be worried? They probably should be," he says. "They should be asking questions. They should be wondering, 'Did my family member -- when he got an infection in the hospital -- did he die from the IV bag, because it was filthy?'"

The pharmacist was fired February 3, 2015, six days before his one-year probation work status would have ended. He amassed documents, emails, pictures, and recordings before he was fired. He whistle blew to DEA, OIG, Virginia Board of Pharmacy, FDA, and to Senator Tim Kaine in an effort to get his job back.

Carmichael says, "They're going to frame me as a 'conduct issue,' because that's what they do. That's what they do with anyone who whistle blows."

The FDA surprised McGuire on March 9th with an unannounced inspection, which uncovered three observations:

  • The absence of written procedures to prevent drug products contamination.
  • A deficient process of disinfecting the IV room, including a repeatedly used wet mop.
  • No records of investigations when discrepancies do occur.

Carmichael says, "It's clear patient safety issues. There's no policies. You're not using an agent to clean this room, contaminating every product that goes into a person's vein."

In a letter to Senator Kaine, McGuire's medical center director calls the FDA's observations "suggestions for improving processes."

John Brandecker writes, "No violations were noted which would cause harm to veterans or employee licensure."

"Let the public decide that," Carmichael contends. "That's a patient safety issue. It's not about my conduct."

Two months later, Brandecker writes Kaine again, saying Carmichael was terminated for cause -- not for performance or in retaliation for any actions, which he describes as whistle blowing.

"I just want my job back. I just want to take care of patients," says Carmichael. "Do I think these people need to be accountable for their actions? Yes. But I just want the things that I asked and reported to be fixed."

Senator Kaine tells McGuire's director in a letter, that he's monitoring the claims Carmichael made to other federal regulatory agencies. Carmichael is seeking protection as a whistle blower.

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