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Huntington man wants VA held accountable for father's death

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A Huntington man claims his father received sub-standard care at the hands of a Veterans Administration surgeon who was hired while he faced disciplinary proceedings in Iowa for alleged “professional incompetency” in his handling of nine patients there.

Christopher Carson filed suit pro-se in federal court in Huntington, claiming Dr. Robert H. Finley's initially botched diagnosis of what ended up being a perforated bowel forced his father, Asa, to endure multiple surgeries and severe disfigurement, extreme pain and mental anguish in the two years leading up to his death in May 2013.

The suit claims that when Finley, a surgical oncologist, was hired by HVAMC in 2007 he was already facing disciplinary proceedings in Iowa for what that state's medical board had termed his “questionable” treatment of nine patients at a Des Moines hospital, six of whom died.

Finley did not respond to a request for comment. But, in paperwork filed in connection with his hiring at HVAMC, he denied all wrongdoing, suggesting his patient mortality rate was largely due to the fact that, as an oncologist, he “operated on sicker patients” than most.

The VA hiring panel ultimately determined that the Iowa cases “had no merit” and deemed Finley “an asset to the surgical team.”

Christopher Carson, however, contends Finley incorrectly diagnosed his father with an inguinal hernia in May 2011 and discharged him without running any diagnostic tests. When his condition didn't improve, the family took Asa Carson back to Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center at which point Finley determined he was suffering from perforated sigmoid diverticulitis with diffuse peritonitis.

Christopher Carson said the delay in treatment led to serious complications that required several additional surgeries, including a colostomy. He said in mid-June a VA nurse expressed concern about the quality of care Asa Carson was receiving from Dr. Finley, prompting the Carson family to ask HVAMC to remove Finley from his case and designate another physician to serve as his primary surgical consultant.

The suit alleges that, “due to substandard care ... (Asa Carson) was forced to endure multiple colon resections, revisions and placement of ostomies,” with intestinal contents leaking into his abdomen and destroying the tissue.

The suit said Asa Carson died May 21, 2013, roughly one week after another surgeon, Dr. David Denning, tried to “restore his quality of life and reverse the complications from the earlier surgeries.”

The complaint alleges the VA improperly hired Finley and that he committed medical malpractice. It seeks at least $1.2 million in damages, the amount Asa Carson had signed off on before his death.

“My father's wish was that we do whatever we could do to make sure this did not happen again,” Christopher Carson said. “I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but hopefully we can fulfill my father's wishes.”

He said the VA had offered to settle the malpractice claim for roughly $38,000 but was unwilling to budge on the Carson family's allegations that Finley was improperly hired.

“If my dad would have had a different doctor, there would have been a different outcome,” Christopher Carson avows. “It's a tragedy. We don't want it to happen to another family, it shouldn't happen to another family.”

Finley ultimately settled the complaint with the Iowa Board of Medicine, agreeing to a $5,000 fine and a public reprimand for failing to conform to the minimal standard practice of medicine in his surgical treatment of eight patients in 2005.