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State inspectors denied records at Tampa VA hospital

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Published:   |   Updated: April 9, 2014 at 08:33 PM

For the second time in as many days, inspectors from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration were turned away from a local Department of Veterans Affairs medical center after seeking records.

Two inspectors visited the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa just before 10 a.m. Wednesday and stayed about 10 minutes before leaving without the records they were seeking, hospital spokeswoman Karen Collins said. On Tuesday, inspectors were turned away from the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines.

The inspections were ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after stories and an editorial in The Tampa Tribune reported that Florida veterans died or were injured due to delays in treatment for gastrointestinal cancer.

On Monday, VA officials released findings of a report that showed three veterans died and nine were injured as the result of delays involving the VA’s Sunshine Healthcare Network, or VISN 8, which serves Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands. The report showed another 17 deaths and 44 injuries nationwide.

The visit to Haley came about the same time the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, which has been seeking information about the deaths and injuries since September, was holding another hearing into the issue of preventable deaths at VA facilities.

Scott says he will continue investigating VA facilities.

“For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to call for the VA to allow state surveyors to review their processes until the unanswered questions are addressed. I expected the VA to be open to an independent analysis, but they remain close-minded to my calls for accountability and transparency.

AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek said the investigators arrived at the Tampa hospital about 9:41 a.m. and were declined the opportunity to review any processes. “Despite being turned away a third time from a third VA hospital, the agency remains firmly committed to helping obtain the necessary information that can help ensure our brave veterans receive the care they deserve when visiting a federal VA hospital in Florida,” she said in a statement.

AHCA inspectors have also visited a VA facility in West Palm Beach.

“Although VA medical facilities, as components of the federal government, are generally not subject to state law, VA recognizes that states have an important interest in the health and well being of their residents,” said Susan Wentzell, a spokeswoman for the Sunshine Healthcare Network. “Accordingly, we seek to partner and cooperate with state and local governments, but must adhere to federal law. VA has responded to Gov. Scott and is willing to set up a meeting with the state Agency for Health Care Administration to discuss the extensive programs and policies in place to protect the health and safety of veterans receiving care.”

Wentzell said the inspections have continued despite efforts to work with Scott.

“The governor’s initial news release announcing his call for state inspections of VA hospitals in Florida took us by complete surprise,” Wentzell wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We became aware of it only through media reports, and when that occurred, VISN 8 network director Joleen Clark immediately reached out to the governor’s office in an effort to learn more about the governor’s concerns.

“Unfortunately, that call to the governor was not returned – and we were informed it would not be returned. Disappointing, to say the least. We try, whenever possible and appropriate, to partner and cooperate with state and local governments because we all have the same goal in mind — the best delivery of care to our nation’s veterans.”

Scott says he is willing to talk to the VA.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers,” the governor said in a statement. “My office stands ready to dialogue with the VA about their lack of transparency, and with every VA hospital that turns away state inspectors, my concerns are more heightened, not diminished.”

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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