ST. PETERSBURG — A group that accredits most of the nation's hospitals hit the Bay Pines VA Medical Center with 40 violations of its standards, though hospital leaders say the problems are minor and pose no threat to patients.
Bay Pines, the nation's fifth-busiest veterans hospital with 95,000 patients last year, and the nonprofit accreditation group, the Joint Commission, declined to release a copy of a report detailing violations.
But in an interview Thursday, the hospital's medical chief of staff, Dr. George Van Buskirk, said Bay Pines has a "culture of improvement" and noted that few large hospitals make it through the commission's tough inspection process without a similar number of deficiencies.
Van Buskirk said 10 inspectors spent a week combing through Bay Pines facilities and processes earlier this year.
"These would be more in the category of tweaks to an already good process rather than an indication of a bad process," Van Buskirk said.
Though a hospital could lose its accreditation if deficiencies are not fixed — Bay Pines has up to two months to correct problems — Bay Pines officials say that is extremely unlikely in its case. The hospital is currently accredited with the commission and is in good standing.
Inspectors will return to the hospital later this year to confirm that deficiencies have been fixed.
Among deficiencies noted by the commission:
• Blocked exits. Van Buskirk said this involved just two exits at Bay Pines' outlying clinics, including one where a trash can was placed near an exit.
• Suicide-risk assessments. Van Buskirk said the commission noted the hospital should streamline its process of assessing patients. Bay Pines conducts an in-depth assessment of a patient only if an initial assessment indicates a suicide risk.
Van Buskirk said the commission is recommending an in-depth assessment of all patients.
• Expired medications. Van Buskirk said this involved two vials of insulin at Bay Pines' nursing home that posed no health risk. He said Bay Pines has never had an incident in which a patient was harmed by expired medication.
• Aprons to shield employees from radiation had not been inspected in a timely manner. Van Buskirk said the inspections of some aprons were just a few days late.
• Updates on plans of care for patients. Van Buskirk said this was not a quality-of-care problem but involved wording changes in documentation.
In a written statement to Bay Pines employees this week, hospital director Wallace Hopkins said, "Many of you are already working on implementing solutions to correct these deficiencies so that we can ensure we are providing quality care to our veterans."
Some Department of Veterans Affairs critics say the hospital needs to be more forthcoming, urging that the full report be released.
"I think any hospital that has 40 violations … has a moral obligation to step forward to reassure patients that their safety is guaranteed," said Lynn Zellers of Treasure Island, whose father was a Bay Pines patient until his death in March at age 82.
Van Buskirk noted that Bay Pines last year was the recipient of the Robert W. Carey Trophy Award, the VA's top honor for quality achievement.
Ken Powers, a spokesman for the commission, said accreditations are reviewed every three years. The process, he said, is voluntary. Powers said it was impossible to say how 40 violations ranked against other hospitals of Bay Pines' size.
The process, said Van Buskirk, is "not designed to uncover deficiencies and claim 'gotcha.' It's an opportunity for fresh eyes to take a look at an organization and identify areas where we can improve and give us some feedback on where improvement can take place."
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.