A trio of Republican lawmakers from Florida are demanding answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs as to why a military veteran died after the VA hospital in Gainesville refused to treat him because administrators could not prove his service status.
GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, joined by Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, pressed VA Secretary Denis McDonough for more details about the incident, which occurred in June 2020 at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center (MR VAMC) Emergency Department. It came to light when an inspector general’s report was released on May 31.
The lawmakers told McDonough that they were “appalled” by news of the death, which the IG attributed to the ER staff’s failure to provide care, and which garnered an “inadequate response” from hospital administrators.
The report details how nurses and administrative staff “prioritized determining the patient’s veteran status over rendering him emergency care,” the lawmakers noted. Their hesitancy forced Alachua County paramedics to take the patient across the street to UF Health Shands Hospital, where the patient was admitted.
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“According to the OIG report, the patient was later determined to be an eligible veteran. Shands UF provided emergency care, but the veteran passed away approximately 10 hours after admission,” the letter observes.
“This incident, and potentially others mentioned in the report, call into question the competency, professionalism, and commitment of MR VAMC ED medical providers and staff to our nation’s veterans.”
Continuing, they added, “The report found that not only did the ‘[ED] nurses [fail] to provide emergency care access to the patient,’ but when they conducted their own assessment, they ‘failed to recognize the criticality of the patient.’”
“This information is extremely troubling for all veterans who trust the MR VAMC. The report and its conclusions should concern anyone seeking emergency treatment at MR VAMC, or is brought to the facility in a condition in which they could not articulate their medical care needs, would not be given timely and proper assessment and treatment.”
The IG report also points out that the hospital’s medical and administrative staff have “repeatedly” violated a federal law that mandates ER personnel to screen and treat patients with emergency medical conditions. The lawmakers said the report showed at least seven incidents involving delays or denials of care between 2018 and 2021, in violation of this law.
Accordingly, the lawmakers asked McDonough to report to them how many such incidents occurred at the hospital in that period, and how many eended in injured or dead patients. They also want to know whether any staff received disciplinary or dismissal actions, as well as the average time of delays in care or patient registration.
They also seek similar information for the same time frame for other hospitals within the same region as the Gainesville facility.
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The lawmakers, citing the IG report, also questioned whether the ER nurse educator submitted falsified documents concerning the competency assessments of two nurses involved in the June 2020 incident. And the IG report indicated the hospital’s chief of Nurse Education did not complete mandated yearly competency certification assessments in either 2018 or 2019.
“This is unacceptable,” they wrote.
Moreover, they noted that they were “deeply troubled” by the hospital’s former director’s decision to block the recommended disciplinary action against some ER staff. They also demanded that McDonough show that he will act on the IG’s recommendations to review the incident to determine if state licensing boards must get involved by June 30, instead of Sept. 30, as the IG suggested.
“The VA must demonstrate to veterans and their families in the MR VAMC catchment area, and nationwide, that the MR VAMC ED is knowledgeable, competent, and dedicated to its veteran patients,” the GOP lawmakers wrote.
“Our nation’s veterans have served their country honorably. They should not have to worry about gross incompetence and negligence when they seek care, especially in emergency situations where timely, efficient, and effective care is vital.”