By SANDRA K. REABUCK
JOHNSTOWN — The Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., confirmed Thursday that it is conducting an inquiry into Rep. John P. Murtha’s gallbladder surgery and his medical care there in late January.
Murtha, 77, died Feb. 8 at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., reportedly from complications from the surgery.
The congressman had what was expected to be routine laparoscopic surgery Jan. 28 to remove the gallbladder at the Bethesda hospital.
He was hospitalized there for a few days in December due to gallbladder problems.
Following the surgery, Murtha went to the the other hospital’s emergency room on Jan. 31 with a fever and infection. He was admitted to the intensive-care unit.
Cmdr. Danny Hernandez, a spokesman at the Naval Medical Center, said Thursday that the review process is identical to one followed by most hospitals in the nation.
“It’s done if a person dies after care or after any adverse event during the care of that person. It looks at the performance of all involved in his care,” Hernandez said.
Some published reports suggested that the infection may have been caused when a surgeon nicked Murtha’s large intestine, but that was never confirmed by the hospital or family.
Hernandez said that the review will be a “multi-level process which includes a mortality and morbidity conference, a quality-assurance investigation by an uninvolved subject-matter expert, a review by a multi-discipline patient safety committee and consultation with Navy medical and outside experts.”
He said he did not know how long the review would take.
The inquiry comes amid political jockeying for Murtha’s 12th Congressional District seat.
Former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, who had been mentioned as a contender for the seat, will formally announce today whether he will run. Singel, a Johnstown resident and a Democrat, will hold a news conference this morning at the Holiday Inn in downtown Johnstown.
He is president of The Winter Group, a Harrisburg lobbying and consulting firm.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ed Rendell said a special election will be held in conjunction with the May 18 primary to fill the vacant congressional seat for the balance of this year. In the primary, voters in the Democratic and Republican parties will select nominees for the November election for the full two-year term.
Another Democrat, Cambria County Controller Ed Cernic Jr. is to announce his intentions Monday about whether he will run.
The name of Murtha’s widow, Joyce, has been floated as a possible contender to fill her husband’s seat, but she has not commented on that speculation.
Barbara Hafer, who served as both state treasurer and state auditor general, said Monday that she will enter the race, though she would step aside if Joyce Murtha decides to run.
Hafer was a Republican but switched parties after endorsing Rendell for governor in 2003.
Tom Ceraso, a Westmoreland County commissioner and a Democrat, reportedly is considering a campaign.
Two other Democrats and two Republicans previously announced their intentions of running before Murtha’s death.
They are Democrats Ron Mackell Jr., a former Johnstown resident, and Ryan Bucchianeri of Monongahela and Republicans William Russell of Johnstown and Tim Burns of Washington County.
A longtime Murtha friend is spearheading an effort to have a statue of the late congressman erected in Johnstown’s Central Park.
The idea is from Ed Cernic Sr., a West Taylor Township businessman and longtime Murtha supporter and friend.
He said it would be a tribute in Murtha’s hometown, just as Indiana Borough erected a statute to honor actor James “Jimmy” Stewart.
“Jimmy Stewart was an icon and Jack Murtha was an icon for the people of his district and county and for the military,” Cernic said.
He wants to form a committee that would look into the costs of a statue and raise money for it. He said that he has not discussed the idea with Murtha’s family.
“When he passed away, I just felt we should do something to honor him and his family. I’m sure it’ll take a lot of money. I really believe it can be done,” Cernic said.
Councilman Anthony “Red” Pinizzotto approved of the concept.
“I think it’s a great idea, and I don’t think there would be any problem with City Council to do that. Jack Murtha deserves to be recognized by the city for what he’s done for this community.”
Councilman Jack Williams said that the statue is “a terrific idea,” but suggested that Central Park may not be the best location because it is becoming crowded with other memorials.
There may be other locations, such as Roxbury Park or the Point Stadium, he said.