State inspectors sent by the Governor to review records and conditions at a Florida Veterans Affairs hospital last week were kicked out of the facility after only an hour, with administrators telling them their next contact with the hospital would come through Washington, D.C.
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott had instructed two representatives from the State’s Agency of Health Care Administration (AHCA) to review the facility after a series of patient deaths at VA centers across the region prompted concerns that diagnostic services were not being provided to veterans in a timely manner.
“Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Sec. Liz Dudek accused the federal Department of Veterans Affairs of a ‘lack of transparency’ today after she said two AHCA inspectors were denied access to records at the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach,” reported The Palm Beach Post last week. “Responding to reports of veteran deaths and injuries caused by delays in diagnostic testing in the VA region that includes Florida, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday asked AHCA to inspect VA hospitals in the state.”
But the inspectors were met with resistance, allegedly owing to Federal guidelines involving an inherent conflict between patient privacy and unannounced inspections. An ACHA representative said that’s hogwash, because “[a]ll of our inspections are unannounced…”
Florida’s AHCA criticized the Feds’ deliberate attempt to close access to a facility that State inspectors, by their own admission, only intended to observe in a secondary, supporting role at the behest of Florida’s Governor.
“While federal VA medical centers are owned and regulated by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and its vendors, the agency has the local field support and expertise to assess the risk management programs and internal incident reporting practices with hospitals,” said AHCA press secretary Shelisha Coleman. “The agency regulates more than 200 hospitals in Florida so we have the knowledge to assist the VA in reviewing procedures.”
“Florida’s veterans who have so bravely fought to defend and protect our nation deserve quality health care, and I am disappointed in the federal government’s lack of transparency to this point,” said Dudek in a separate statement.
VA Hospitals in the Sunshine Healthcare Network, which includes Florida, have come under increasing scrutiny after a series of investigations suggested that delays in basic screening and diagnostic services, such as colonoscopies, are at least partially to blame for at least five patient deaths in the network — and as many as 19 nationwide.
The Department of Veterans Affairs shot down a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year by The Tampa Tribune, claiming it could not reveal the locations of all the hospitals where the deaths occurred because the documentation was still “preliminary.” The Tribune did report, however, that the Sunshine Healthcare Network recorded the second-highest number of patient deaths or injuries nationwide over a two-year span between 2009 and 2011.