FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A doctor who worked for the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville has been indicted by a federal grand jury on three counts of involuntary manslaughter after allegedly making incorrect and misleading diagnoses that caused the deaths of three veterans.
Robert Morris Levy also was charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, 12 counts of mail fraud, and four counts of making false statements. On two occasions, Levy allegedly falsified entries in the patients’ medical records to state that a second pathologist concurred with his diagnosis.
The charges were announced Tuesday by Duane Kees, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, and Michael Missal, Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, following a year-long investigation.
Earlier this year, the VA said 12 veterans may have died as a result of misdiagnosis by Levy, who allegedly was impaired when he worked as a pathologist at the VA hospital in Fayetteville.
The hospital announced last year that it was reviewing more than 33,000 cases the pathologist handled during his 13-year tenure. The external review found 3,007 cases that resulted in an error or misdiagnosis — about 9 percent of the pathologist's entire caseload since 2005. Of the 3,007 cases, 22 were identified as "institutional disclosures," meaning an adverse event that results in or is expected to result in death or serious injury.
The hospital served thousands of veterans in the Four-State Area, including Southwest Missouri.
Levy was removed from clinical care in October 2017; he was fired in April 2018.
According to the federal indictment:
Levy held a medical license issued by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure in 1997 and was hired by the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in 2005 to serve as Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medical Services.
In 2015, he was interviewed by an administrative panel following reports that he was under the influence of alcohol while at work. Levy denied the allegations, but in 2016, he appeared to be intoxicated while on duty, and a subsequent test revealed a blood alcohol content level of .396. As a result, the VA suspended Levy’s privileges to practice medicine and issued a written notice of removal and revocation of clinical privileges. Levy acknowledged "unprofessional conduct related to high blood alcohol content while on duty” and in July 2016 he voluntarily entered a three-month in-patient treatment program, which he completed that fall.
At the end of the treatment program, Levy executed a contract with the Mississippi Physician Health Program and the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure in anticipation of returning to practice medicine at the Fayetteville VA hospital. In the contract, he agreed to maintain sobriety and he agreed to “abstain completely from the use of ... alcohol and other mood-altering substances” and to submit to random urine and/or blood drug screens. He returned to work at the Fayetteville hospital in October 2016.
On 12 occasions beginning in June 2017 and continuing through 2018, while Levy was contractually obligated to submit to random drug and alcohol screening, he purchased for personal consumption 2-methyl-2-butanol (2M-2B), a chemical that enables a person to achieve a state of intoxication but is not detectable in routine drug and alcohol tests.
According to the indictment, Levy devised a scheme to defraud the VA and to obtain money and property in the form of salary, benefits, and performance awards he would not have received had the VA known he was intentionally concealing his non-compliance with the drug and alcohol tests. Levy is also accused of making false statements to a special agent of the VA's Office of the Inspector General, and making false statements in health care matters by entering information in a patient’s medical records that he knew to be false, and making a false statement during a grievance hearing related to his employment.
The hospital held monthly town halls last year and into January to give updates on the case review.