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When USA Today published leaked rankings of Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, the VA hospital in Nashville was at the bottom of the list in quality of care. Now that hospital is at the center of a wrongful death suit after a 26-year-old veteran died from a treatable condition.
Aaron Merritt was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the Nashville VA Medical Center in January 2014, and died less than ten months later after doctors failed to monitor his reaction to prescribed medication. Merritt's parents are now suing the hospital and the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System for negligence in their son's death.
"We always accepted we might get a knock at the door," Merritt's mother, Carol, told The Tennessean, "that something might happen. But when he got back safely, we never thought we'd get a call in this way. I think the system let him down. He trusted them." Specifically, Merritt trusted them to keep an eye on his blood cell counts because of a condition that suppressed his immune system, leaving him more susceptible to side effects from the colitis medicine.
The drug manufacturer and medical journals recommended blood work every two weeks for patients with Merritt's condition. But despite at least one doctor recommending frequent monitoring, Merritt's blood count was checked just once. His condition worsened and he checked in to the VA emergency room, but by then his blood counts were so low he became critically ill and died in October 2014.
"After prescribing the medication to Aaron, the VA physicians only ordered one blood [count] in a span of nearly six months," said Frank Thacher, the Merritt family's attorney. "Sadly, the physicians noted in the medical records that they needed to be getting more frequent blood work, but no one ever followed through on it."
Doctors who prescribe the wrong medication, or fail to adequately account for or monitor possible side effects of a medication can be held liable for resulting injuries and death. If a doctor's level of care for a patient fell below the standard set by similar doctors, he or she may be guilty of medical malpractice.
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