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Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked a state health official to conduct the VA probe.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked a state health official to conduct the VA probe.

Regional News/South: Fla. governor demands probe of possible VA hospital deaths, and other news

By Virgil Dickson, Beth Kutscher and Rachel Landen
Posted: April 5, 2014 - 12:01 am ET

Florida Gov. Rick Scott last Tuesday asked Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of the state's Agency for Health Care Administration, to investigate U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in the state because of suspicions that a series of preventable deaths may have occurred there.

Two weeks ago, news broke that five veterans who were cancer patients died and nine others suffered injury because of delays in diagnosis or treatment at VA hospitals. However, it's unclear in which specific facilities these incidents took place; what is known is that they occurred at a VA Sunshine Healthcare Network location. That VA division has hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The VA has refused to provide details and as a result, Scott—who is facing a tough re-election battle in November—is calling for action.

“Which of these incidents happened at which veterans' hospitals in Florida? ... How can the federal government increase transparency on the quality of care provided to veterans so taxpayers can ensure these federally funded hospitals are providing excellent care for our nation's heroes?” Scott asked in his letter to Dudek.

Officials at numerous veterans' organizations were surprised by the call to investigate VA hospitals.

“All my dealings with veterans' doctors there have been fabulous. They've gone the extra mile to take care of me,” said Joel Markman, a Vietnam veteran who runs the not-for-for profit Florida Veterans Assistance Association. Other organizations, including Florida Veterans for Common Sense and the state Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, claim they've heard no complaints about care at Florida VA hospitals.

Details concerning when the investigation would begin and how long it would last could not be released due to state procedure, according to Shelisha Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Representatives from several VA hospitals in the state declined to comment and instead deferred to a statement released by the VA, which claimed that when an incident occurs, it aggressively identifies and corrects it and works to prevent additional risks.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHVDickson

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Tenet wins state court decision to build new South Carolina hospital

Tenet Healthcare Corp. on April 1 won a victory in South Carolina's administrative law court that will allow it to build a 100-bed hospital in the town of Fort Mill.

Four health systems had vied for a 2005 certificate of need to build a new hospital in York County, which is part of the Charlotte, N.C., metropolitan area. Tenet's Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C., initially won the bid, but after the decision was contested in court, the certificate of need ultimately was granted to Carolinas HealthCare System.

In a statement, Carolinas HealthCare said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the court did not affirm its proposal and handed the project back to Piedmont. The Charlotte-based system said it was reviewing the findings to determine what its next steps would be.

Dallas-based Tenet did not disclose when it would begin construction on the medical center, which is projected to cost $119.8 million, plus any financing fees. The facility will serve as a sister hospital to 280-bed Piedmont and CEO Bill Masterton will oversee both campuses.

Piedmont's plans call for a hospital with 64 new acute-care beds, identified as necessary in the 2004-2005 South Carolina Health Plan, as well as an additional 36 licensed beds transferred from Piedmont's Rock Hill location.

Carolinas' plan called for a 64-bed, $79.1 million facility.

In his decision, administrative law judge Phillip Lenski said he weighed a number of factors, including how each proposal would affect competition in the region. He also pointed out that Piedmont has a long-standing contract with the county to provide non-hospital services, such as ambulance transport, often at a loss.

Follow Beth Kutscher on Twitter: @MHbkutscher

Community Health Systems' acquisitions expand footprints in Fla., Pa.

Community Health Systems, a publicly traded Franklin, Tenn.-based hospital company, this week completed its acquisition of Sharon (Pa.) Regional Health System. CHS also signed a 40-year lease of Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla.

The Sharon Regional acquisition includes its 218-bed medical center, outpatient centers and affiliated physician practices that serve northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania. Community Health Systems has its second-largest state presence in Pennsylvania.

The long-term prepaid lease of 420-bed Munroe Regional also includes the medical center's clinical affiliation with UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. That lease makes Florida Community Health Systems' largest market with 26 affiliated hospital. The lease is the culmination of negotiations that began between Munroe Regional and Health Management Associates, which Community Health Systems acquired in January.

“The acquisition of Sharon Regional and the lease of Munroe Regional are important, strategic affiliations for our company as we work to develop networks in key states,” Wayne Smith, chairman and CEO of Community Health Systems, said in a release. “Both hospitals have served their respective communities with quality care for many years, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with the medical staffs and employees in their commitment to providing quality health services.”

Community Health Systems is one of the largest for-profit hospital chains in the U.S. in terms of revenue. It comes in just behind HCA and not-for-profit Ascension Health in Modern Healthcare's published ranking of hospital systems last June, which used 2012-reported net patient revenue. Community Health Systems reported revenue of $13.029 billion for 2012 and revenue of $12.997 billion for 2013.

Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden

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