VA Patient Records at Center of Tug-of-War in Florida

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

State health care regulators showed up unannounced for a third time at a federal Veterans Administration Hospital in Florida and asked to view patient records.

That visit to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa Wednesday appears to be part of a tug-of-war between Gov. Rick Scott and federal VA hospitals.

The governor ordered state inspectors to review VA hospital records and conditions after a national VA investigation indicated that delayed treatment may have led to the deaths of three patients and injury of several others in the VA network that includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

None of those deaths occurred at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg or James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

And state health regulators were advised that federal law prohibits sharing VA patient records when they showed up at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital last week.

Yet, inspectors from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed up at Bay Pines Tuesday and at Haley Wednesday according a Haley VA public information officer.

“They asked to inspect our records and we’re working with them taking their concerns,” Karen Collins, James A. Haley PIO, said. “Basically, (the) VA is dealing with it on a regional and national level and to work with the governor’s office.”

Collins said the VA has responded and offered to meet with the governor and state regulators.

However, ACHA did not acknowledge the VA’s invitation. Instead, the agency sent out a press release within hours detailing how two surveyors arrived at Haley Veterans Hospital at 9:41 am and left at 10:02 am “after being declined the opportunity to review any processes.”

Later in the day, the governor’s press office sent out a release:

Governor Scott said, “For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital. 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.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers. 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.”

In Washington, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on the “Continued Assessment of Delays VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.”

The prepared statement for John D. Daigh, Jr., M.D. from the Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, is available here.

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VA Hospitals in Tampa Bay Lengthen Wait Times for Vets

James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa, FL.

Veterans seeking care at both VA hospitals in the Tampa Bay region are waiting longer for care, but with no consequences to the hospitals. That’s because both hospitals expanded its allowable wait times, a major measurable for VA centers, which is not against policy the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Tampa Bay’s two veterans hospitals have changed a much-watched measure of their performance by increasing from 30 to 120 days the time a patient must go without an appointment before being placed on a waiting list, interviews and documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show.

Critics of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say the change is part of a wider VA trend of fudging statistics showing how well facilities serve veterans.

The VA denies the charge.

But at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, a switch from 30 to 120 days this month left the hospital’s waiting list for outpatient appointments much improved. It dropped from March’s 4,981 patients to 1,800 this month, Haley figures show.

The VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in Seminole increased its waiting list threshold from one to four months in late 2010, earlier than Haley, Bay Pines said.

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Veterans Day Ceremonies Begin in the Tampa Bay Area

Floyd Kruszka (left) and Darrell Egner, both veterans of Operation Dragoon, salute the American Flag at a ceremony commemorating the 65th Anniversary of Operation Dragoon, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Aug. 5, 2009. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

Friday is the official – 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month which marks the end of hostilities – the Armistice from World War I.  Yet many events are planned throughout the week to mark what has become Veterans Day.

NOVEMBER 8 – TUESDAY:

MacDill AFB – It’s not open to the public, however, the 6th Air Mobility Wing at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base and the joint commands located on base will observe Veterans Day at an 8 a.m. ceremony that includes a flyover by a KC-135 Tanker.

USF TAMPA CAMPUS: An early Veterans Day celebration is set Tuesday at Tampa’s University of South Florida Campus featuring the Special Operations Parachute Demonstration Team and Keynote Speaker, General Lloyd “Fig” Newton, USAF (Ret). It’s scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.

NOVEMBER 11 – FRIDAY:

HALEY VA HOSPITAL – A parade, antique car show and cookout have become a tradition at Tampa’s VA Medical Center. It’s open to the public and is truly a center where Veterans are a huge part of the ceremony and celebration. The parade begins at 10 a.m. including high school bands, the U.S. Central Command Color Guard, AMVETS Riders and  more.

BAY PINES VA: A ceremony honoring the men and women who served features the Keswick Christian High School band, a firing salute, taps performance, and military vehicle display is scheduled at 10 a.m. on the Bay Pines Campus. It’s open to the public, veterans and their families.

A reminder to all Veterans – if you’d like to share your definition on what it means to be a Veteran – email me at bobrien@wusf.org with your comment before Nov. 10th.

Veterans Day Celebrations

Thursday is an opportunity to celebrate the veteran in your life or those you may not even know. Here are a few events planned in the Tampa Bay area.

The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital will hold its third annual Veterans Day Parade. The parade begins at the hospital’s Freedom Parking Lot at 10 a.m. Other events include an antique car show at 9 a.m., a post-parade ceremony at 11 a.m., and a cookout throughout the day. Parade participants include the Santa Claus Drill Team, high school bands, and the AMVETS Riders.

At the Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg, a ceremony at 10 a.m. will feature guest speakers Wallace Hopkins, Tom Bowman, and keynote speaker Michael Jernigan. Activities also include a military vehicle display and music by Keswick Christian High School.

In Sarasota, ceremonies are scheduled at Riverview High School, Bay Haven School of Basics Plus, and Sarasota High School. Downtown Sarasota will host a parade and dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. at the traffic roundabout at Five Points Circle. And Major Gen. Robert J. Kasulke is the special guest at a dinner at the Bird Key Yacht Club. Call Ed Brown at (941) 923-9861 for reservations for the dinner.
In Brandon, a Veterans Day and Street Fair Celebration is scheduled from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Winthrop Town Centre at the corner of Bloomingdale Ave. and Providence.

Another way to pay tribute to a veteran is to record their story and submit it to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

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