ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The Bay Pines VA healthcare system is one of two Florida veterans’ facilities that received one out of five stars in an annual assessment by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
This was the first year the federal agency included VA hospitals in the survey that included all seven Florida VA medical centers. The West Palm Beach VA was also rated with a single star, and Tampa’s James Haley VAHCS got three stars.
The criteria measured mortality, safety, readmission, patient experience, and timely and effective care.
Bay Pines was comparable to other Tampa Bay area hospitals in every metric but readmissions, according to Director and CEO Paul Russo. But Russo did not back away from the need to improve the rating.
“We own these results and are working hard to correct and ensure Veterans receive high-quality hospital care,” Russo said. “For us, it’s about process improvement that remains centered on quality-of-care post-discharge and associated management of high-risk medical conditions.”
Veterans advocate Jimmie Smith of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) said there is no excuse.
“One star is basically dismal for the amount of money that gets pumped into the VA healthcare system,” Smith said. “They’ve never had this much money or this much staffing. There’s no reason for them to have that. It’s just basically poor leadership.”
Russo pointed out Bay Pines received three out of five stars in patient survey scores, and he said the hospital has worked on improving since the data was collected last year.
“The CMS Star Ratings do not represent long-term care, mental health, or outpatient care services,” Russo said. “Nonetheless, no one at the Bay Pines VAHCS finds these results acceptable and we are working hard to provide high-quality healthcare to veterans.”
Smith said the low rating is another reason VA facilities need to be more proactive in giving veterans a healthcare choice through Community Care.
That program was put into effect after the Phoenix wait list scandal involving veterans who died while waiting for appointments. Community Care allows patients to go outside the VA for a number of reasons, including if they wait more than 20 days for a primary care appointment.
“Community Care is there, but we know that the VA is intentionally dissuading the use of the program, and trying to keep the veterans within the VA healthcare system,” Smith said. “They’re not having enough options in the healthcare system, just being stuck in places that have just one star.”
The VA has denied personnel discouraging veterans from going outside the VA for healthcare if they qualify.
CVA’s sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is suing the VA over its lack of response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for data about wait times.