Health Care

Kansas doctor accused of botched surgeries is banned from operating, under VA review

A surgeon accused of mishandling surgeries in Missouri has been banned from the operating room of the Wichita Veteran Affairs hospital while his work there undergoes a “full review.”

The VA’s move comes after The Kansas City Star first reported that urologist Christel Wambi-Kiesse had been accused by Missouri’s medical licensing board of performing robot-assisted surgeries that were beyond his abilities.

Those operations took three times longer than they should have and resulted in errors that harmed patients, the state’s Board of Registration for the Healing Arts said. The VA says it launched its investigation of Wambi-Kiesse’s work at the Robert Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita after learning that he faced disciplinary action in Missouri for allegedly mishandling operations on patients at his previous job in the Kansas City area.

The board cited three examples of botched surgeries performed in 2013 while Wambi-Kiesse worked at a now-defunct urology clinic associated with Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence. The complaint before Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commission said Wambi-Kiesse’s alleged mistakes contributed to a woman’s death and caused dangerous complications for two men who had undergone prostate surgery.

The VA said Wambi-Kiesse has been assigned administrative duties “in lieu of clinical or patient care” at the Robert Dole VA Medical Center. He can still see patients, but won’t be allowed to perform surgery while he is under review.

“Appropriate action will be taken based on the results of that review,” the VA said.

The agency did not say when the review began, but called the allegations against Wambi-Kiesse “serious.”

The Missouri healing arts board filed its complaint in May, but it received no media coverage until The Star’s article published Sept. 1. The VA declined to discuss Wambi-Kiesse’s status prior to publication, but pay records show he has worked at the Wichita hospital since at least 2015, if not longer.

The healing arts board did not explain why it waited six years to initiate disciplinary action, but Wambi-Kiesse’s troubled work history was not unknown when the VA hired him. Centerpoint began its own review of Wambi-Kiesse in 2013, according to the state board complaint, and was notified two weeks after Wambi-Kiesse’s April 2014 resignation that his name was on the National Practitioner Data Bank.

The data bank describes itself as tool that helps prevent doctors “from moving state to state without disclosure or discovery of previous damaging performance.” Inclusion on the list does not automatically disqualify a doctor from working for the Department of Veteran Affairs, but the reason for being on the list can influence hiring decisions.

It’s unclear whether the VA checked the data bank before hiring Wambi-Kiesse. The department said only that officials at the Dole VA Medical Center did not learn about the allegations against him “until after this individual was hired.”

A recent study by the federal government’s General Accountability Office faulted the VA’s hiring practices for not doing thorough background checks.

After The Star’s article appeared, Wambi-Kiesse’s attorney asked the Administrative Hearing Commission to redact more than a dozen paragraphs of the complaint, which identified him as being on the National Practitioner Data Bank and outlined Centerpoint’s review of his surgical record, including the review panel having concerns about 14 of the 160 surgical procedures he performed there.

The hearing officer agreed last week to erase that information from the public file on the grounds that it was privileged personnel information.

The complaint does not specify the type of discipline the healing arts board is seeking, but Wambi-Kiesse could lose his Missouri medical license, which allows him to work at the VA in any state.

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Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738
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