The wife of the late Charlie Norwood, an Augusta dentist who served in the House of Representatives 12 years before he died in 2007, said that the death of three cancer patients at the VA medical center named in her husband’s honor is a tragedy, but that she still has faith in the hospital’s system of care.
“It was a distinct honor for his colleagues in Washington to suggest and put it in place for the hospitals of this district to be named in his honor,” Gloria Norwood said in a recent interview with The Augusta Chronicle. “My husband was very committed to the military, and I felt the gesture to be fitting – and I continue to feel that way.”
The Augusta VA Medical Center was renamed for Charlie Norwood in January 2008, almost a year after his death at the age of 65 because of complications from his eight-year battle with metastatic lung cancer and chronic lung disease.
More than five years later, the hospital’s gastrointestinal program has been linked to the deaths of three cancer patients between 2010 and 2011 because of consultation delays that involved at least 5,100 veterans.
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs continues to investigate the administration of the hospital’s former director, Rebecca Wiley. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will lead a congressional oversight visit at the facility Jan. 6 to hold those accountable for the missteps.
“It is certainly a tragedy,” Gloria Norwood said of the lapse in care. “I don’t understand it and I don’t know how it could have possibly happened.”
After the fallout, health care administrators at the Augusta VA said they brought in extra personnel, leased and purchased additional scopes, and even re-engineered the hospital’s floor plan to increase patient flow.
The three-month effort helped the facility reduce its backlog to 540 unresolved consults and Norwood said she hopes that the problems have been identified and corrected.
“I hear stories almost every day of what great treatment patients get at the VA,” Norwood said.
Last week, Norwood said, a friend told her that her husband had a stroke and had been in the VA twice. Norwood said the friend described the care as “fabulous.”
Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, Charlie Norwood represented most of east Georgia at some point during his political career.
He served as a captain in the Army from 1967 to 1969 and initially was assigned to the dental corps at Sandia Army Base in Albuquerque, N.M. In 1968, he was transferred to the medical battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam, serving at Quin Yon, An Khe and LZ English at Bon Son.
During his tour, Norwood performed experimental military dental procedures that are now standard for the armed forces. He was one of the first participants in the Army’s outreach program to deliver dentists to forward firebases in lieu of transferring patients to rear treatment areas.
In recognition of his service under combat conditions, Norwood was awarded the Combat Medical Badge and two Bronze Stars. Upon returning from Vietnam, the Valdosta, Ga., native was assigned to the dental corps at Fort Gordon. He married Gloria in 1962 while getting a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern College.
“Charlie really didn’t receive much bad publicity in his lifetime,” Gloria Norwood said. “He was a well thought of dentist and politician.”
Norwood said she knew Wiley well and that the former director was kind to the family.
“It can’t be that they just picked on gastrointestinal patients,” Norwood said. “There has to be more to it. There has to be a series of reasons that mushroomed into this tragedy.”