Days before dying, VA doctor still worried about her patients

Jonathan Kaupanger
February 27, 2018 - 2:49 pm

Photo by David Joles/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

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There’s been more than 1,000 whistleblower disclosures at Veterans Affairs since the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection was created in June of last year. But, only one is coming from the grave.

Five days before she died from cancer, Dr. Sarah Kemble finished a 23-page affidavit on what she said was substandard care at the VA.  Reported by WCVB in Boston, Kemble wrote, “It is my final wish to complete this affidavit so I can attempt to change systemic and dangerous patient care, dangerous practices and public safety issues.”

Kemble worked at VA’s Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, MA. In her statement, she wrote that she had concerns about the qualifications of leadership, substandard care as well as delays in patient care. She even said that the Choice Program was already broken and money that should be used for veteran care was spent on paving and landscaping.

Other problems brought forward by Kemble included issues at the VA’s flagship facility, the Northampton Medical Center.  At night, there are no lab services, radiology, clinical pharmacist or even psychiatric services.

“The substandard care means patient harm,” wrote Kemble. But, when she complained, she was hit with retaliation by the VA. The VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) has opened an investigation, and before she died, Kemble told investigators that after she complained, she was transferred and demoted.  At least 30 complaints have been filed from Massachusetts since OAWP was created in June 2017.   

The spokesperson for VA’s Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System said that they are cooperating with the investigation, but couldn’t get into specifics. 

“She felt the commitment to veterans, her patients was more important than having a few extra hours or days left in her life, said Jerry Lund, Kemble’s husband. “She wanted to make sure that somehow, beyond her passing, the VA would be held accountable.”