Anthony Mariano, the hospital's former pharmacy director, would later claim his exile to the abandoned psych ward in 1999 was punishment for supporting a fellow pharmacist, Jeffrey Fudin, who questioned whether hospital cancer researchers were putting patients at risk by allegedly prescribing drugs outside medical protocol.
While hospital officials have insisted the new investigation has nothing to do with the allegations made seven years ago by Fudin
, other VA insiders said both cases involve alleged violations of medical protocols in the cancer program.
Stratton VA officials and a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs
in Washington, D.C., have declined comment on the criminal investigation and the pending whistle-blower cases.
The whistle-blower cases also raise questions about how seriously the VA's Office of Inspector General
investigated Fudin's allegations and whether the FBI's
Albany field division erred three years ago when special agents declined to conduct an independent inquiry of the case, records show.
Hospital insiders insist Fudin's allegations were covered up, and as a result, patients in the hospital's cancer research continued to be used as "guinea pigs," in which many veterans may have suffered unduly or died prematurely after being recruited into questionable drug programs.
The oncology department finally faced an intensive investigation last year after a Texas company, Ilex Oncology, reported to federal authorities that one of its cancer drugs was being used improperly in the hospital's research program.
Now, as a criminal investigation unfolds and federal authorities said it's possible manslaughter charges could be brought against those responsible, some hospital insiders blame a federal system they contend failed to protect Fudin
and Mariano or insure their allegations were properly investigated.
Lawsuits brought by Fudin
and Mariano, who have declined comment, are still pending before a federal whistle-blower court in Washington, D.C., but some employees said the federal protections are not enough to reassure workers.
In the Albany case, though, it appears the whistle-blowing activities of Fudin
and Mariano, who also questioned the hospital's decision to switch cardiac patients to cheaper drugs several years ago, may have collided with the VA's desire to maintain lucrative and prestigious cancer study programs.
Officials who worked in that department at the time, but spoke on condition of anonymity, claim the site team members told some people they were there to get rid of Mariano and Fudin
That March, two days after Fudin
alerted VA officials that cancer patients may be at risk, hospital officials discussed his
Not long after Vyzula left the United States, Fudin
, who is a clinical pharmacist focusing on pain management, wrote his memorandum to VA officials questioning Hrushesky's use of Taxol, an FDA-approved cancer drug.
Within months, Fudin
was brought up on internal charges alleging he
had abused patients.
In August 1996, Fudin
wrote a letter to the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs outlining his
situation and claiming he
was the target of retaliation by hospital administrators.
"Hrushesky has been responsible in many cases for needless premature patient suffering and/or death," Fudin
wrote in a memorandum obtained by the Times Union
Several months later, as Fudin
faced an internal disciplinary hearing, Mariano wrote a letter to hospital officials supporting Fudin.
...A month later, the "site team" from Washington, D.C., arrived at Stratton VA to evaluate the VA pharmacy where Fudin worked and Mariano was the director, according to court records.
and Mariano would later claim that over the next several years they were subjected to intense scrutiny and accused of mismanaging the pharmacy and of violating standard medical procedures.
..."The Inspector General has become part of the problem," said Ron Dunn, an attorney handling the pending whistle-blower cases for Fudin and Mariano.
...Fudin also was fired and worked for a CVS store and a drug company before his job was reinstated last year by an administrative judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board, the court for federal whistle-blowers.
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