TAMPA — The new chief of the James A. Haley VA Medical Center is dismissing reports about the hospital's financial struggles and says Haley enjoys robust financial health.
Kathleen Fogarty became Haley's director four months ago and was immediately faced with stories by the St. Petersburg Times about Haley's frantic efforts to close a fiscal 2011 deficit once as high as $47.5 million.
In her first interview since becoming Haley's director, Fogarty insisted Friday that Haley was doing well financially, expects no fiscal 2012 deficit and this year received one of the largest budget increases of any Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.
Haley got a 6.8 percent budget hike for fiscal 2012, which opened Oct. 1, pushing its budget to $706 million.
Fogarty said many VA medical centers face funding shortfalls at the end of a fiscal year, noting they are always filled when the agency transfers in funds from VA reserves. A "gap" at the end of the year does not reflect a financial problem, she said.
"I don't use the word" deficit, Fogarty said. "We call it the 'd' word. We don't use that word. And we'll never use that word, not here. We are going to be balanced. … We are financially solvent."
Fogarty acknowledged that in previous years Haley may have lost money by failing to accurately document the level of care provided to patients. This is important because under VA funding formulas, more complex care leads to increased funding.
"I don't believe we were capturing all of the workload," she said. "Now we're catching up."
One other budget challenge for Haley is "right-sizing" the hospital as 33,000 patients have moved off its rolls to a new VA medical campus in Orlando, where a major VA hospital is scheduled to open in 2014.
Orlando already is providing outpatient services to veterans from that area who once had to drive to Haley in Tampa.
Fogarty said Haley's full-time staffing levels, once as high as 4,800 in 2006, now stand at about 4,100. And in the next two years, at least another 100 positions will be eliminated through attrition.
"We must right-size the organization, making sure we have the right people doing the right job with the right amount of resources," Fogarty said. "By doing these things we will ensure our financial solvency in 2012 and beyond.
"Orlando," she said, "needs to grow. Tampa needs to compress."
Fogarty denied that Haley cut funding to a program in which the hospital pays for a veteran's care outside the VA in instances when the VA is too busy or doesn't offer a service.
Earlier this year, the Times quoted an internal Haley memo that said "fee basis" care was being restricted to emergencies only. But Fogarty said that never happened.
"Honestly, I can't tell you about the memo," she said. "I didn't do it."
But Fogarty said the "fee basis" program was in disarray when she took over and was not being properly monitored. In some cases, care was being authorized at facilities outside the VA when there was no need, she said.
"When I came, fee basis was broken," Fogarty said. "That's the best word I can use. And honestly, there was nobody in charge."
But she said Haley has redesigned the system and oversight is now strong. "It's more in line with what I think is a good business process," Fogarty said.
Fogarty said one reason veterans had the perception that the "fee basis" program was being cut was because some Haley employees were mistakenly telling veterans exactly that.
"Was it wrong? Absolutely," Fogarty said. "They were told something that I would say was incorrect."
Fogarty has worked in the VA for 28 years, including stints as director of several hospitals. Fogarty said Haley has a great story to share and provides unrivaled health care.
"But we have to determine how we'll provide the maximum value and excellent service to our veterans at the same time we're becoming more efficient, reducing waste, and respecting every dollar entrusted to us by taxpayers."
Reach William R. Levesque at email@example.com or (813) 226-3432.