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Former Manchester VA doctor turns up in Baltimore

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 27. 2018 9:41PM

Dr. Huq, former head of the Manchester VA Medical Center spinal cord clinic 

MANCHESTER - Dr. Muhammad Huq, the controversial former head of the spinal cord clinic at the Manchester VA Medical Center cited for a high incidence of serious medical ailments, was transferred to the VA center in Baltimore, Md., federal officials have confirmed.

The New Hampshire Sunday News independently determined Huq was working as an academic hospitalist at the Baltimore VA as former physician colleagues of his identified him through a photograph on the clinic's website.

When asked if this was the case, Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, said Baltimore was where Huq was employed.

The latest federal report from the Office of Special Counsel released last week reported that nurses at the Manchester VA in 2008 had alerted top officials with their concerns about Huq's treatment of patients.

His questionable behavior - copying and pasting old patient chart notes instead of writing new notes - continued for years, the Special Counsel said.

Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton, one of the Manchester whistleblowers, is the former New England regional director of the VA.

"Why does this surprise anyone? If you look at what happened to the senior management in Manchester, why should it come as any shock that this doctor would wind up landing on his feet?" said Levenson, who is a Republican candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.

"I am well familiar with Dr. Huq and observed how his work significantly degraded patient care."

When the VA opened internal investigations into problems at Manchester, inspectors insisted no harm resulted from Huq's actions, even though they did not review all of his patient files, the Special Counsel found.

"The findings regarding Dr. Huq are flawed due to their inconsistency," Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote to President Donald Trump in a letter dated last Thursday.

Dr. Huq did not respond to requests for comment sent to his work email address in Baltimore.

According to Cashour, Huq is paid $221,812 a year, which consists of about $131,000 in salary and another $91,000 in so-called "market pay."

The federal VA pays physicians and dentists market pay above their posted salary, which compensates them based on the recruitment and retention needs for that particular medical professional.

Market pay is set by the VA secretary on a case-by-case basis through peer review based on experience, qualifications and complexity of the position, according to federal officials.

"It's no small irony I suppose that he's getting extra payment down there in recognition of his years of service and his experience as the head of a spinal clinic," Levenson said.

The most serious criticisms of the Manchester VA have always centered on the spinal clinic. Critics say a high percentage of spinal clinic patients suffered a loss of spinal cord function known as myelopathy.

Of the 170 patients at the Manchester spinal unit, 100 had some degree of myelopathy.

Cashour said there was no evidence that Huq's practice of copying and pasting records led to bad medical outcomes for his patients.

"The practice was identified and discontinued. The physician was disciplined. A review of cases did not identify any patient harm related to the incidents where this occurred," Cashour said.

The four whistleblower doctors contend that Huq's practice of copying and pasting chart notes contributed to the high incidence of myelopathy, the Special Counsel wrote.

Huq, 60, is a 1982 graduate of the Sir Salimullah Medical College in the capital city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. According to medical accreditation authorities, it is ranked as one of the most prestigious medical colleges in South Asia.

While working for the Manchester VA, Huq also had an internal medicine specialist practice in Winchester, Mass.

"The last we knew after he left Manchester was that he was working back in Winchester, but we sort of lost touch with him," said Dr. Ed Kois, the current head of the spinal cord clinic and the only whistleblower on a federally created task force to look into how to improve care at the Manchester VA.

Cashour said Dr. Huq remains licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts.

Asked if there were any sanctions imposed against Huq for his medical care, Cashour answered, "The VA does not take licensing actions; state licensing boards do, so you would have to check with the appropriate board."

According to records on file, there were no complaints in the past five years lodged against Huq either with the Maryland Board of Physicians or the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine.

New Hampshire records confirm Huq's license to practice in New Hampshire expired in June 2016.

According to New Hampshire files, he resides in Bethesda, Md.

Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this report.

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