Robert Levy was hired as the Chief of Pathology at the Veterans Healthcare System of the Ozarks (VHSO) in Fayetteville, Arkansas. However, one day in 2016, he appeared to be drunk at work, and his blood alcohol content (BAC) was checked. His BAC was .396. It cannot be understated how high a .396 BAC level is. This is not just drunk. To put this into perspective, a 200 pound person would have to consume over 12 drinks in one hour to get to this point. It is so high, that it is considered a medical emergency. This doctor got that intoxicated, then he went to work making diagnoses of the laboratory samples from potentially, critically-ill veterans.
How long had he may have had the alcohol abuse problem that led him to that point? We don't know. However, in 2015, staff reported that he appeared drunk at work, but a VA fact-finding panel at VHSO took Dr. Levy's word that he had not been intoxicated and allowed him to continue working. However, after the 2016 incident, VA immediately suspended his privileges to practice at their hospital and reported this to the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, where Dr. Levy had been licensed. In other words, VA did the right thing. At first.
Then, after three months of voluntary rehab, Dr. Levy entered what is known as an impaired physician monitoring system. That meant that Dr. Levy agreed to abstain completely from drugs and alcohol, and also consented to submit random urine and blood tests to make sure he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Under this program, he could return to work at VHSO. He returned to work at the VHSO and, from 2016 to 2018, was regularly tested. None of his tests were positive for drugs or alcohol. However, in October of 2017, staff reported, once again, that he looked intoxicated. He was promptly tested, but his results were negative for drugs or alcohol. So, despite his history, despite the staff reports, VA let him continue to work. He also received monetary bonuses for reporting that his pathology department had a low error rate.
It turns out, however, he had been showing up to work intoxicated for years and he had been covering it up. He also lied about how many mistakes he and his department had been making. According to a criminal indictment filed against Dr. Levy on August 12, 2019, he had been consuming a drug which mimicked the effects of alcohol, but was not detectable by routine drug and alcohol tests. His intoxication led him to make mistakes which resulted in the death of at least three veterans.
VA was wrong to let him continue to work, and as a result, veterans died.