Kentucky Family Believes Poor Treatment at Local VA Hospital Led to Their Father’s Death


Family members of World War II veteran Louis Smith believe he may still be alive if it wasn’t for the shoddy care he received at the Lexington, Kentucky Veterans Administration facility, which they described as “inhumane, negligent, and insensitive.”

“He was there for his country and he was proud to do it, and where were they for him?” Betty Abell, Smith’s daughter, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Smith, 91, was a decorated veteran who earned a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars during his military service.

He mowed his own lawn, cooked his own meals and renewed his driver’s license on his own before his treatment at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2011, the family alleges in a federal tort claim seeking $500,000 in personal injury and the same amount for wrongful death damages, the news site reports.

“What’s unusual about Smith’s case is that his children kept a detailed narrative account of his treatment … because they had always been involved in their parents’ medical care and the notes helped them to communicate with each other and keep track of appointments and treatments,” the Herald-Leader reports.

According to the family’s extensive notes, Smith was taken to his primary care doctor at the Lexington VA Jan. 3, 2011 for kidney problems, and requested to be hospitalized, but the doctor told him “We need to have a reason to admit him,” according to the news site.

A few weeks later, the family took Smith to his family doctor who diagnosed him with full renal failure. Smith was rushed to the emergency room, where a liter of urine was expelled.

“The next day, after admission to Lebanon’s Spring View Medical Center, seven liters were expelled. The same day, the VA hospital (in Lexington) said it did not have a bed for Smith,” according to the Herald-Leader.

Smith was transferred to the Lexington VA four days later and eventually spoke with a urologist who said he had a urethral blockage and prostate cancer. The doctor allegedly delivered the news as he and an associate “were discussing and laughing about a TV show while family members and patient were visibly upset,” the new site quoted from the family’s notes.

“The urologist allegedly told the family that if the patient were his grandfather, he would do nothing because Louis Smith had lived ‘a long, good life,’” The Herald-Leader reports.

The urologist prescribed cancer treatment injections and drugs to shrink the prostate, but didn’t perform a biopsy. Smith’s family demanded a nephrologist – a kidney specialist – but the VA primary care doctor told the family it was unnecessary.

Eventually two nephrologists reviewed Smith’s case and discovered he had 18 to 19 percent kidney function. Emotional and distraught, Smith told his family “Get me out of here; they are going to kill me!”

Despite numbness and tingling in his extremities and a hoarse voice, the VA planned to release Smith with a catheter, but his children requested a transfer to Jewish Hospital, where Smith’s family doctor had contacts. He was admitted in critical condition three days later and suffered a heart attack before he was released from Jewish Hospital on March 11, 2011.

Smith’s kidneys were permanently damaged from the episode, and he was forced to undergo rehab and dialysis for nearly a year before he died of pneumonia, atrial fibrillation and end-stage renal disease, the Herald-Leader reports.

Family members filed a federal lawsuit following Smith’s death which claimed “failure of hospital staff to act in a prudent manner; misdiagnosis and gross negligence,” but were denied in July 2013.

“Another letter, which was sent to the house of the late Louis Smith in Springfield in January of this year, appears to advise the family that it may re-initiate claim proceedings using executors of the estate and a new claim form,” the news site reports.

The family started the process over again last Friday, and they contend that getting the word out about the problems with the VA is their primary motivation.

“We have never been interested in the money,” Janette Smith, Louis Smith’s daughter, wrote to the Herald-Leader in an email. “We do want justice for our veterans.”


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