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Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license

By   /   January 18, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 40 of 46 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. –The “Candy Man” cannot practice medicine in Wisconsin ever again.

That’s the ruling of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.

Dr. David Houlihan, the former chief of staff and acting medical director at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was fired in November 2015 following multiple reports that he oversaw a staff that overprescribed opiates. The initial story, broken by the Center for Investigative Reporting, documented the death of a 35 year-old Marine veteran who died in August 2014 of a toxic cocktail of prescription medications while at the hospital.

Houlihan was known as the “Candy Man” in and around the hospital for his alleged opioid prescription practices.

In a deal announced Wednesday, the Department of Safety and Professional Services ordered the mental health professional to permanently surrender his license and registration. Houlihan may not practice medicine in Wisconsin again and the ruling will be placed in a national physician database. In exchange, state regulators have agreed to drop their investigation into the doctor’s conduct.

File photo

PERMANENTLY REVOKED: State regulators ordered former Tomah VA Medical Center Chief of Staff, Dr. David Houlihan, to surrender his license within 30 days. He will not be allowed to practice medicine in Wisconsin again.

Safety and Professional Services found Houlihan failed to provide appropriate care to at least 22 veterans and engaged in misconduct over many years.

“This agreement will not bring back the veterans he harmed, the employee he drove to suicide, or other whistleblowers whose reputations he destroyed, but I am at least happy he won’t be seeing patients in Wisconsin again,” said Ryan Honl, a former Tomah employee and whistleblower who helped bring to light allegations of misconduct.

“This news brings to mind the Wisconsin veterans and families who were affected by the tragedies at the Tomah VA Medical Center,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh in a statement. Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which released a 359-page report in May 2016 detailing “systematic failures and preventable tragedies” at the hospital.

RELATED: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures,’ report finds

“As my committee’s investigation also found, the Tomah VA and Houlihan repeatedly failed to honor this nation’s promises to the finest among us. Our veterans deserve world class care, as well as accountability for those who fail to provide it,” Johnson said.

In April, Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Nashold restored Houlihan’s medical license, overturning the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board’s emergency suspension. Nashold said the board acted hastily in suspending Houlihan’s license while an investigation into his conduct continued.

Houlihan had established a private psychiatry practice early in 2016 as the investigation dragged on.

The Senate report noted  Houlihan was promoted to the chief position at Tomah in 2004, despite previous charges against the psychiatrist from the Iowa State Board of Medical Examiners that he had “inappropriate professional boundaries” with a patient. The VA did not formally address the Iowa allegations until 2009, but by that time VA regional leadership determined the matter was “resolved.”

Houlihan was at the helm in November 2007, when Tomah VA veteran Kraig Ferrington died from “poly medication overdose.” Ferrington had been discharged less than 24 hours before. Investigations determined there were deficiencies in the medical center’s medication management.

“(T)here is a general concern regarding the number of medications (Ferrington) was on, and the potential interactions among them,” one VA consultant wrote, according to the committee report.

In June 2009, a Drug Enforcement Administration investigator interviewed Noelle Johnson, a pharmacist at the facility who was fired after questioning prescriptions. She showed the DEA 10 examples of patients who had prescriptions that were either too high in dosage or too long in duration, according to the report.

After being fired on July 14, 2009, Dr. Christopher Kirkpatrick died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Prior to his death, Kirkpatrick had raised concerns about overprescribing practices at the medical center.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, whose office was criticized early on for failing to heed whistleblower warnings, called the ruling “welcome news.”

“I believe (Houlihan) has no business treating our nation’s veterans or any citizen in Wisconsin,” the Madison Democrat said in a statement.

Part of 46 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.