According to information that Wisnieski said the VA provided to AHCA on Monday, privacy laws prohibit the use of lists other than the electronic wait list for personally identifiable information on patients.
Alleged secret waiting lists and falsified records have been recently reported at various VA hospitals around the country, including allegations that some veterans put on a secret waiting list at the VA Health Care system in Phoenix died while awaiting appointments.
These secret waiting lists were supposed to hide delays and possibly were even used so management executives could earn bonuses connected to shorter wait times, according to news reports.
However, Wisnieski has said the paper waiting list found at the Gainesville VA hospital wasn’t a secret waiting list like the ones being reported from other VA facilities.
Instead, it appears to have been a supervisory oversight, Wisnieski said Tuesday.
“There’s not any questions regarding the integrity of our system and our employees and the care that we provide to patients,” he said. “I don’t want patients to be scared away thinking that they’re not going to get good care at our health care system, and I would think that would be the same case at other health care systems.”
AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman told The Sun that the state agency sent a surveyor to the Gainesville VA hospital Monday in the hope of conducting an onsite review related to the risk management and quality assurance process used by the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 8, also known as the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, which includes the Gainesville facility within its jurisdiction.
AHCA has been looking to do the same kind of review at multiple VA facilities across the state and has been denied access from those as well, including West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, Bay Pines Medical Center in St. Petersburg, James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa and Miami VA Medical Center, according to AHCA news releases dating back to early April.
In light of recent reports of injuries and deaths to veterans at various VA hospitals around the country, Coleman said the governor directed the agency to take immediate action to try to shine a light on the processes at VA hospitals in Florida, which it is still committed to doing.
AHCA regulates more than 200 hospitals in Florida, which means it has the knowledge to assist the VA in reviewing their procedures, she said.
“So what we’re asking is: Let us inspect the VA hospitals,” she said. “We can offer our expertise and try to address the issues.”
AHCA has also made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Veterans Affairs for related information regarding Florida’s VA hospitals, which it sent around 20 days ago but hasn’t yet received a response from the federal agency, she said. The veterans and their families deserve answers from the VA, and AHCA will help the governor provide those answers, Coleman said.
Coleman couldn’t say whether AHCA plans to visit any other VA hospitals because all its inspections are unannounced.
“But we remain firmly committed to helping the governor supply those answers,” she said.
The VA has informed AHCA it cannot discuss patient or employee information due to federal guidelines and Privacy Act considerations, Wisnieski said. He also pointed out the local VA is subject to many internal and external inspections each year.
“I think both of our aims are the same: That we ensure that we provide safe, effective, quality health care for the patients that come to us,” Wisnieski said of AHCA and the VA.
The VA Office of Inspector General came to the Gainesville VA hospital Friday to look into the mental health waiting list situation, Wisnieski said. He is waiting to get an official report from the inspector general’s office on how to proceed, so the internal review he has planned to conduct is on hold until then.
Wisnieski also told The Sun he wanted to make it clear that chief psychiatrist Dr. Rajiv Tandon and Peter Durand, chief of the mental health service line, were placed on leave due to potential issues regarding the administrative aspects of their jobs, not the clinical aspects. Tandon and Durand, as well as administrative officer Karen Chin, still remain on leave for now.
“It’s not about their clinical competence. It’s about something they had administrative oversight for,” he said.