TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott's election-year bid to exert state medical authority over federal veterans hospitals continued Wednesday when Florida health inspectors visited and were turned away from the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.
Inspectors with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, under orders from Scott, tried to conduct an unannounced inspection at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Seminole on Tuesday and were similarly turned away.
Scott has ordered AHCA to inspect all of Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals after the VA reported five deaths at its facilities in the region that includes Florida, Puerto Rico and part of Georgia.
Those deaths involved veterans diagnosed with cancer who may have experienced delays in treatment or other problems.
None of those deaths took place in Tampa Bay. But the VA has said there were two "institutional disclosures" at the Young VA and one at Haley in which patients or family were told they may have been harmed during their care.
"Although VA medical facilities, as components of the federal government, are generally not subject to state law, VA recognizes that states have an important interest in the health and well-being of their residents," the VA said in a statement Wednesday.
"Accordingly, we seek to partner and cooperate with state and local governments, but must adhere to federal law. VA has responded to Gov. Scott and is willing to set up a meeting with (AHCA), to discuss the extensive programs and policies in place to protect the health and safety of Veterans receiving care."
Inspectors arrived at Haley at 9:41 a.m. and left at 10:02 a.m., the state said.
Health inspectors also visited a South Florida veterans hospital last week, where they were turned away.
An AHCA spokeswoman said Tuesday that the agency has never before tried to inspect VA facilities.
As happened on Tuesday, the hospital visits were quickly followed by news releases from AHCA and Scott's office.
"Despite being turned away a third time from a third VA hospital, the agency remains firmly committed to helping obtain the necessary information that can help ensure our brave veterans receive the care they deserve when visiting a federal VA hospital in Florida," AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek said in a statement.
Scott criticized the VA for a lack of "transparency."
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org