Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Report reveals widespread VA failures

The inadequacy of the nation's health care system for veterans exploded into full view Monday with a new report revealing that tens of thousands of patients have languished on waiting lists at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The report, coming weeks after allegations that veterans died while awaiting treatment, provides a more thorough and troubling picture of systemic problems within the VA health care system. Congress should respond with new money to hire doctors and expand VA facilities, and the department also needs to become more efficient and accountable.

The audit of 731 VA facilities, including several in Florida, found that the VA's appointment booking process was "overly complicated" and confusing to clerks and supervisors alike. The constant shortage of doctors and other frontline workers made the VA's goal of seeing patients within a 14-day window "simply not attainable," auditors found. In interviews with nearly 4,000 employees, investigators found that scheduling staff often hid those delays by falsifying the records of appointment dates. Thirteen percent of those interviewed said they were told by their bosses to enter false appointment dates — a practice in place at three-fourths of the facilities the investigators visited. The pressure exerted on staff to make the wait times appear more favorable than they are is so pervasive, auditors found, that the VA should re-examine its entire performance system to come up with realistic goals.

The problems with scheduling and followup were so chronic, routine and widespread, the VA found, that more than 57,000 patients are still awaiting an appointment after at least three months. The department will return to dozens of facilities for further review, including the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Pinellas County and two other Florida centers to confront what it described as an "overarching environment and culture which allowed this state of practice to take root."

The agency's internal review comes as the Senate prepares to vote on a bipartisan deal that would provide $500 million for the VA to hire physicians and authorize 27 new VA facilities in 18 states. The new money would help the agency catch up on its backlog. And expanding the VA secretary's authority to fire poor administrators would shake up a bureaucracy that has a vested financial interest in falsifying its performance record.

The Senate bill, though, includes a provision allowing veterans to see a private provider if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or cannot see an agency physician in a timely manner. Spinning off this case load would raise questions about the continuity of care for veterans who often require specialized care. The department should use this opportunity to address its issues and assess whether its clinical operation is appropriately staffed and located across the country. The VA also needs to examine whether its professional staff is carrying an adequate case load. Without answers to these questions, how can Congress determine whether the VA is adequately funded?

Monday's report underscores the widespread hurdles to access that have existed for years, while the Senate legislation recognizes the cost of addressing these long-deferred needs. But the audit and earlier reports on service delays are only a start. The agency and Congress need a complete picture of the operation, and they must be committed to putting reforms in place so the VA's performance meets the nation's obligations. Our military veterans deserve better.

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Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18