State health care officials were turned away Tuesday morning from the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Seminole after they appeared for an unannounced inspection.
Gov. Rick Scott asked the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to inspect the state's Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals after reports of five deaths at VA facilities in the region that includes Florida, Puerto Rico and part of Georgia. The deaths were due to delays in the diagnosis and treatment of veterans with cancer.
Inspectors were similarly turned away last week by VA officials at a hospital in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County. So far, inspectors have not appeared at any other VA facilities in Florida.
The Agency for Health Care Administration has never before attempted an inspection of a federal VA facility, according to AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.
None of the five deaths involved patients at the Pinellas VA facility or the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, according to the VA.
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.
The attempted inspections reveal an unusual jurisdictional battle between the federal agency and the governor's office during an election year.
The "VA is working with Governor Scott's office to address his concerns and was unaware of today's unannounced visit," the VA said in a written statement. "Due to federal guidelines and Privacy Act considerations, we cannot disclose patient or employee information."
Scott said he was "disappointed" that inspectors were turned away.
"We need to shine a light on what happened in federal VA facilities in Florida," Scott said in a statement. "A thorough review of the deaths should be conducted and released. Floridians deserve to know how our veterans died and who is being held accountable. We still expect the VA to provide this information and be transparent so we stand up for the heroes that stood up for our country."
AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek said the agency wants to inspect VA records about internal quality controls and "performance improvement" activities.
"Without an ability to review the processes in place regarding risk management and quality assurance, we cannot ensure that our veterans who have so bravely fought to defend and protect our nation are receiving that quality care," Dudek said.
VA facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission, an independent organization that conducts unannounced site visits.
"In addition to self-inspection and internal monitoring, VA welcomes external reviews from dozens of independent medical and outside organizations, such as the Office of Inspector General, the American College of Radiology, and the American Legion, to name just a few," the VA said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.