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