Former VA pathologist sentencing continues into 2nd day

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The sentencing trial for former pathologist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Robert Morris Levy, found guilty of working while impaired, will continue Friday, January 22, at 8:30 a.m.

On June 11, 2020, Levy, 53, pleaded guilty to two of 31 counts against him — Involuntary Manslaughter and Mail Fraud.

The mail fraud charge (Count 13) carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and 36 months of supervised release.

The involuntary manslaughter charge (Count 29) carries a maximum sentence of eight years, a $250,000 fine, and 36 months of supervised release.

Robert Morris Levy appears before United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Judge for sentencing. | Artist: John Kushmaul

United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks handled Thursday’s, January 21, sentencing hearing in a blended fashion — some testimony was in-person, others participated via video conference.

United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks | Artist: John Kushmaul

For Thursday’s hearing, Judge Brooks said he received 57 victim impact statements. Also, the probation officer, Rachel Roisen-Avant, reported it cost $2.1 million to examine approximately 30,000 of Levy’s cases.

Two government witnesses testified on Thursday.

The first person was from the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs Chief Investigator Kris Raper.

Chief Investigator Kris Raper, Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs | Artist: John Kushmaul

He said Levy’s actions have hurt the ability to hire doctors at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks. Raper said, “he [Levy] was the fox guarding the henhouse,” because Levy was head of the pathology department, able to pass along reports on his own performance without passing on dissenting opinions.

Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) Medical Center Director Dr. Margie Scott testified at today’s proceedings.

She stated 53 pathologists helped conduct the “look back,” similar to a review.

Dr. Scott said, Levy, as a chief pathologist, had the responsibility to both submit diagnoses in patient files and to report any problem — and correct the issue. “Never in my career have I encountered an individual with that many errors and misdiagnoses,” said Scott. She said there were serious concerns of the “level of patient impact.”

DR. SCOTT’S OVERALL REVIEW OF SOME OF LEVY’S WORK

  • The overall error rate was about 10%. An investigation is supposed to be triggered at a 0.7% error rate.
  • 589 Level 3 (major) errors. Any Level 3 error is supposed to trigger an investigation.
  • Around 1990, the VA conducted a 5-year review nationwide. It revealed just over 100 level 3 errors, nationwide at the VA. Levy had 589 in 13 years — that’s 45 per year average.
  • Over 200 cases in which Levy said the case was negative when it was obviously positive.
  • 131 cases Levy said the biopsy was benign but obviously malignant.
  • 42 cases Levy diagnosed a malignancy but it was the wrong one.

The former pathologist is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of three patients, according to court documents. He’s accused of misdiagnosing patients and then changed their records to try and hide his mistakes.

BACKGROUND ON ROBERT MORRIS LEVY

The former Fayetteville, Arkansas pathologist had been in practice for more than 20 years. He specialized in general pathology, hematopathology, anatomic and clinical pathology.

He was employed in 2005 at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHCSO) in Fayetteville.

In 2015, Levy had to address if he was drinking on the job, according to an indictment. He denied drinking alcohol.

In 2016, again Levy appeared to be intoxicated, as reported by employees. He was asked to take a drug and alcohol test. A blood test showed his blood-alcohol level was more than 0.39, according to the indictment. The VHCSO suspended Levy from practicing medicine at the facility. In July, Levy agreed to enter an alcohol treatment program. In September, he agreed to stay sober and submit to random drug and alcohol tests. He faced the threat of permanently having his medical license revoked if he failed to do so, according to court documents.

For nearly two years, November 2016 to July 2018, Levy managed to go around the system by using a chemical “2-methyl-2-butanol” that is not detected in a drug or alcohol test. During this time Levy gave more than 40 urine or blood samples — all came back negative, prosecutors stated.

In 2018, Levy was arrested for driving under the influence and was fired from VHCSO.

He was accused of misdiagnosing at least 3,000 cases, according to court documents.

Levy is an Air Force veteran. His medical license was issued by the Mississippi State Board in 1997 which allowed him to practice in Arkansas. His salary from the Department of Veterans Affairs while working at VHCSO was $225,000.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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