The former chief of staff at the Tomah VA Medical Center - who was fired last November after an investigation found rampant over-prescription of opiates under his direction that resulted in the death of at least one veteran - is set up to soon start a private psychiatry practice in Wisconsin.
Dr. David Houlihan, who had his VA clinical privileges revoked on November 9 after a ten-month federal investigation, has been hired by a private clinic in La Crosse - pending a background check.
"Obviously I think it raises some serious red flags," Gov. Scott Walker told our sister station 27 News in Portage Thursday afternoon.
Despite Houlihan's firing, and the investigation that concluded he "engaged in improper opioid prescribing practices and retaliatory behavior" against his VA employees, he still has a license to practice medicine in Wisconsin.
"That's certainly something we have to take a look at," said Gov. Walker. "As far as the specific status, I'm not sure off the top of my head, it's something we could check with our agencies on."
The State of Wisconsin Medical Examining Board (MEB) found probable cause in December Houlihan had "committed unprofessional conduct" in his role at the Tomah VA, which would normally result in a hearing on the matter within 90 days.
The MEB is under the purview of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
Late Thursday afternoon, a DSPS spokesperson sent a statement to 27 News in response to questions about Dr. Houlihan's case.
"In cases involving the death of a patient, there is a one year limitation on the ability to pursue a medical prosecution. In order to maintain jurisdiction to investigate this matter, the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, on December 16, 2015, made a finding of probable cause with respect to the practice of Dr. Houlihan," wrote DSPS Spokesperson Hannah Zillmer. "At that meeting, the Board petitioned, as authorized by law, for an extension of time to continue investigation of this matter. The petition was granted, giving the Board an additional six months to investigate Dr. Houlihan and to potentially make further findings of probable cause. This will ensure the Board has adequate time to complete a thorough investigation."
Dr. Houlihan's Wisconsin medical license is valid through October 31, 2017. Zillmer did not indicate Houlihan would have to stop practicing medicine while the DSPS investigation continues.
"Anything related to the problems we've seen at the federal government's Veteran's Administration hospitals and clinics, here and elsewhere warrants a further review because we've heard about quite a bit from our veterans across the state," said Gov. Walker.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) has asked the VA to stop referrals to Dr. Houlihan through VA Choice Program and also sent a letter to Gov. Walker on Wednesday requesting an update on the state's investigation.