SEMINOLE — U.S. Rep. C. W. Bill Young is urging the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to speed up the selection of a new director at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Pinellas County.
Bay Pines has been without a permanent director since the April 1 retirement of Wallace Hopkins. Wanda Mims, director of the VA's Caribbean health care system, was announced as Hopkins' replacement in July, but then Mims apparently changed her mind and declined to take the post.
"Too often, temporary leadership brings with it the deferral of important decisions until a permanent director comes aboard, and I fear that this can create long-term problems for Bay Pines," Young said in the letter Monday to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
On Tuesday, Young said he had heard that Mims turned the job down because she was tired of the long delay. Part of that delay, Young said, may have resulted because Mims couldn't come to Bay Pines until her own replacement was selected.
"She was not real happy with the fact that there were no answers on her future," said Young, a Republican from Indian Shores. Mims did not return a call seeking comment.
VA spokesman Josh Taylor, however, said Mims had decided to retire at the end of this year and stay in the Caribbean until then.
Taylor said in a written statement that the VA had opened the search for a director several months before Hopkins' retirement.
The VA "is currently in the process of making a selection for this position," Taylor said. He did not say when a decision was expected.
Bay Pines is one of the busiest veterans hospitals in the nation. It oversees the health care of more than 97,000 veterans and has a budget of $600 million and a staff of 3,800 employees. The Bay Pines director oversees facilities from Palm Harbor to Fort Myers.
Bay Pines also is undergoing the biggest building boom in its history with $253 million in projects.
Other challenges have faced Bay Pines' management in recent years. In 2009, Bay Pines was chastised by a federal judge after four of its employees, including three doctors, won a $3.7 million verdict over allegations that officials illegally retaliated against them.
The four women had filed several workplace complaints, including allegations that their gender hindered advancement at the facility.
Young said an interim director at Bay Pines has done an outstanding job, but the time for a permanent replacement has come.
"All I know is that the logjam needs to be broken," he said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.