A day after Department of Veterans Affairs officials released the locations where delays in treatment led to deaths and injuries of patients, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration continued carrying out Gov. Rick Scott’s orders to inspect VA medical facilities.
Inspectors arrived at the C.W. “Bill” Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines Tuesday and, as with a similar visit last week to a VA facility in West Palm Beach, were turned away without receiving the information they were seeking.
“The Agency has yet to receive the follow-up information from our visit to West Palm Beach VA Medical Center last Thursday,” said AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek in a media release. “Our goal remains to assess implementation of Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement activities required as part of the internal investigations conducted by representatives of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Without an ability to review the processes in place regarding risk management and quality assurance, we cannot ensure that our veterans who have so bravely fought to defend and protect our nation are receiving that quality care.”
The VA’s report found that three veterans died and nine were injured as the result of treatment delays for gastrointestinal cancers in the Sunshine Healthcare Network, which serves Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
None of the deaths was the result of actions at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa or the C.W. “Bill” Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, according to the National Consult Delay Review Fact Sheet report delivered to Congress on Monday. But there were two “institutional disclosures” at the Bay Pines facility and one in Tampa, according to the report. That means that patients or their representatives were notified that the veterans were harmed during their care. The report does not provide any specifics about the level of harm, nor does it list any patient names.
Two of the deaths resulted from delays at the North Florida/South Georgia VA Health System and one was from the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, according to the VA. Another two patient deaths in the region were determined not be related to the delays, according to the VA.
The deaths and injuries in the Sunshine Healthcare Network were from 301,000 consultations made between 2010 and 2012, according to Joleen Clark, director of the Sunshine Healthcare Network, also known as VISN 8.
The VA said it is improving the way it handles health consultations as the result of problems it uncovered at facilities in Georgia and South Carolina resulting in deaths.
Scott expressed disappointment that AHCA inspectors were turned away at the Young center.
“I am disappointed to learn today another VA hospital...turned away the Agency for Health Care Administration’s surveyors,” Scott said in a release. “Yesterday, we learned there were two instances where veterans were harmed, or may have been harmed at this same VA hospital. We need to shine a light on what happened in federal VA facilities in Florida.”
Nationwide, there were 17 other deaths and 44 other patient injuries found during the VA review.
As they did last week, VA officials cited patient privacy issues for turning away the inspectors.
“We can tell you that VA is working with Governor Scott’s office to address his concerns and the unannounced visits to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center and to the Bay Pines VA Medical Center,” said Susan Wentzell, a spokeswoman for the Sunshine Healthcare Network. “Due to federal guidelines and Privacy Act considerations, we cannot disclose patient or employee information..
Until Monday, VA officials had refused to list all the facilities involved in the deaths and injuries. The VA also denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Tribune seeking the information, which was first reported by CNN.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee, which had been seeking the locations of the problems since last September, will hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday, Apr. 9.
“A thorough review of the deaths should be conducted and released,” said Scott. “Floridians deserve to know how our veterans died and who is being held accountable. We still expect the VA to provide this information and be transparent so we stand up for the heroes that stood up for our country.”