LEEDS, Mass. (WWLP) - Dr. Sarah Kemble became the chief of medicine of the VA's Central Western Massachusetts Medical Facility in Leeds in 2014, a job that she thought of as a dream job.
However, shortly after she accepted the position, she grew increasingly concerned over a level of care that she believed, was putting patients at risk. "From the day she set foot on the premises, she saw issues that really just hit her in the face," Dr. Kemble's attorney, Lisa Brodeur-McGan, said.
Attorney Brodeur-McGan said those alleged issues range from delays in medical treatment and inadequate patient care to improper spending.
Kemble tried to make changes on her own, but in the fall of 2017, she learned she had an aggressive form of cancer. In the days leading up to her death, Kemble wrote a 23-page affidavit, blowing the whistle on the VA Medical Facility in Leeds.
Dr. Kemble's husband, Jerry Lund, read a portion of that affidavit to the I-Team. "It's my final wish to complete this affidavit so I can memorialize and testify to the above information, so I can attempt to change systemic and dangerous patient care, dangerous practices, and public safety issues."
Attorney Brodeur-McGan told the I-Team one of Kemble's biggest concerns was that the facility advertised 24/7 care, even though essential services were not available 24/7. "Just one of the things that she raised, of the many, was that this facility, which is known as an urgent care facility, is supposed to be a 24/7 facility, and in fact, it is not. Nights after 4 p.m. and weekends or holidays, they don't have essential staff to meet what we call standards of care for urgent care facilities."
In Kemble's testimony, she accuses the facility of failing to offer x-ray services, psychiatric services, and radiology on nights and weekends.
Attorney Brodeur-McGan said Kemble also accused the facility of spending money that was supposed to go towards healthcare on other projects, including landscaping and paving. "That wouldn't be a bad issue in and of itself, if there were extra money to hire people, like psychiatrists, or maybe have a technician after 4, or maybe have the ability to take labs after 4:00. She saw it as a gross misuse of funds."
According to Kemble's testimony, she tried to bring her concerns to her bosses and even complained to the Regional Ethics Committee, but instead of inciting change, she was retaliated against and demoted.
Lund explained that after years of fighting an uphill battle, she made her final effort. "She knew she was going to die, she knew it was going to be quick. She decided this affidavit was a way of carrying on after her death."
The VA's Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has since opened an investigation into Dr. Sarah Kemble's concerns.
Attorney Brodeur-McGan told the I-Team she has spoken to numerous veterans who have allegedly experienced the substandard care at the VA Medical Facility in Leeds, and is urging anyone else to come forward.
STATEMENT FROM DEPT. OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
"VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection is investigating concerns brought forth by Dr. Sarah Kemble. The case is still under investigation and we will follow the facts wherever they lead."
-Department of VA Press Secretary, Curt Cashour
STATEMENT FROM VA CENTRAL WESTERN MA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM:
“VA Central Western Mass is committed to providing quality care for our Veterans. We are fully cooperating with the investigation. We invite you to visit our public data base that shows access to care for patients at our VA medical centers: https://www.accesstocare.va.gov/. We will continue to seek ways to improve the service we provide to Veterans.”
-Andre Bower, Public Affairs Officer VA Central Western MA Healthcare System
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