A series of surprise election-year inspections of VA medical facilities by officials from the state Agency for Health Care Administration have resulted in the release of none of the information being sought from VA officials, according to a letter from the AHCA general counsel to his counterpart at the VA.
“(T)o date, not a single page of documentation has been produced in response to AHCA’s reasonable document requests relating to the risk management policies and procedures utilized at the numerous Veterans Affairs facilities visited by AHCA staff.”
Sparked by stories and an editorial in the Tampa Tribune seeking information about the deaths of patients at VA medical centers as the result of treatment delays, AHCA officials began visiting VA medical facilities in Tampa, Bay Pines and elsewhere around the state on April 3.
Three patients died and nine others suffered injuries in the VA region serving Florida as the result of the delays, according to the VA.
According to an Apr. 16 letter from AHCA General Counsel Stuart Williams to VA General Counsel Will A. Gunn seeking to clarify the agency’s request, AHCA is seeking information about risk management policies and procedures, documentation on development of measures to minimize injury risks to patients and information about the analysis of frequency and causes of incidents causing injury to patients among other items.
In his letter, Williams said that AHCA was bounced around between local, regional and national VA officials in its request for information, ultimately being told that it needed to file a Freedom of Information Act request because it is seeking “information subject to various state and federal privacy laws.”
In an aside, Williams complained that the FOIA process “will no doubt take many months if not years, to generate an actual response.”
There is no need for a FOIA request, said Williams, “because AHCA is seeking risk management policies and procedures, not individual specific information subject to state or federal privacy laws.
VA officials in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
But earlier this month, after local VA facilities were visited by AHCA inspectors, Susan Wentzell, a spokeswoman for the Sunshine Healthcare Network, said that VA facilities are not generally subject to state law.
The inspections, which have come during a heated reelection campaign in a state where veterans are numerous and politically active, were ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after the Tribune reported that there were patient deaths and injuries as the result of delays in treatment for gastrointestinal cancers in the VA’s Sunshine Healthcare Network serving Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Earlier this month, the VA — which turned down a Freedom of Information Act request from the Tribune seeking the information — announced the location of the deaths and injuries nationwide, including three veterans who died and nine others who were injured in the Sunshine Healthcare Network.
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. 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. Nationwide, there were 17 other deaths and 44 other patient injuries found during a VA review initiated after deaths were discovered in Georgia and South Carolina.