Ill. Congressional Delegation, VA Chief Meet

A review of the hospital found inconsistencies with reporting deaths and problems with patient safety, including surgeons performing procedures they weren't authorized to do, the report said.

"The secretary gave us his assurance he is going to take this as a matter of personal priority, as he should," said Sen. Dick Durbin, who called the slow pace of fixing problems at the hospital inexcusable and unacceptable.

Shinseki left the meeting without talking to reporters. Afterward, his office released a statement that he was taking "swift action," and that would include having seasoned, proven leadership at the helm to implement necessary changes.

Durbin and Illinois Sen. Roland Burris said Shinseki promised to give them a progress report in about five weeks.

The hospital has been under intense scrutiny since 2007, when a former surgeon resigned three days after a patient bled to death following gall bladder surgery. All inpatient surgeries were suspended within a month.

The VA found at least nine deaths between October 2006 and March 2007 resulted from substandard care at the hospital, which serves veterans from southern Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky. The VA said another 10 patients died after receiving questionable care that complicated their health.

The hospital still isn't performing major surgeries, though some outpatient procedures are performed there.

Shinseki spokeswoman Katie Roberts said inpatient surgeries are expected to resume in late spring 2010, after the hospital's surgery department is fully staffed. A general surgeon and anesthesiologist were recently hired, and a second surgeon is expected to start this month.

Burris said there is a problem getting qualified surgeons to work in rural VA hospitals, and Durbin said it is unclear how many surgeries would need to be performed annually to cover costs.

"We owe it to these veterans and families to correct the problems there as quickly as possible," Durbin said. "When we promise our veterans we are going to stand behind them when they come home, we mean we are going to stand behind them."

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