SEMINOLE — More than 1,000 appointments to the gastrointestinal clinic at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center were canceled in the past three years to make the facility's numbers look better, according to a recent whistle-blower complaint.
The complaint, which appears intended for the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general, said the outpatient cancellations in the past "one to three years" were ordered by a senior hospital leader "to make the numbers look good."
A copy of the complaint was sent to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the inspector general's office in Washington, D.C., declined to confirm or deny it had received it.
The allegations also were made anonymously, which the VA's inspector general allows. The person raising the allegations said in the complaint they could not be identified "to avoid possible retribution" by the VA.
The cancellations involved consultation appointments and gastrointestinal (GI) procedures such as colonoscopies, the complaint said.
Asking the inspector general's office to carefully review Young VA GI cancellations, the complaint said, "This type of action (is) generally well concealed."
U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said he spoke with Young VA director Suzanne Klinker to ask about the canceled appointments Tuesday after reading an online story by the Times.
"She reassured me the matter is being looked at," Jolly said in a written statement. "But beyond that the director informed me they have yet to see a formal complaint or be contacted by the inspector general."
The VA's inspector general in recent weeks has reported the widespread use of so-called "gaming strategies" at VA facilities around the nation whose goal is to make it appear as if veterans are getting treatment faster than is true. At the Phoenix VA, a whistle-blower said the hospital maintained a secret waiting list to hide treatment delays.
The Phoenix whistle-blower said 40 patients there died awaiting care.
VA whistle-blowers around the nation have reported being retaliated against after they brought to light problems at VA facilities. In 2009, a federal jury awarded a multimillion-dollar verdict to four employees of the Young VA, including three doctors, who said their careers were damaged by VA leaders after they filed complaints about workplace problems.
Young VA officials said they could not talk about the complaint.
"It would be inappropriate to comment or speculate on complaints submitted to the Office of Inspector General," said Young VA spokesman Jason Dangel. "Complaints submitted to (the inspector general) are confidential in nature, reviewed and acted upon as appropriate."
Later, Dangel said the Young VA in the past two years has had few patients referred to the GI clinic for consultations wait more than 90 days without an appointment. The highest number of patients who waited more than 90 days for a consultation was 34, he said.
"We continue to review the consult process across our health care system and take action to strengthen oversight mechanisms" that meet the VA's "goal to provide high-quality and timely care to the veterans we serve," Dangel said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.