SENATOR GRAHAM HOLDS HEARINGS AT BAY PINES-Andrew Stelzer

03/22/04

There are over almost 2 million US military veterans living in Florida, most of them receive full health coverage from the government, through the department of veterans affairs. One of the biggest Veterans medical centers is Bay Pines, in St Petersburg. Last October, a new computer system was installed, and didn’t work correctly; there were soon waiting lists of veterans for surgery. That fiasco, coupled with an letter of complaint about management from several anonymous VA employees, led Congressmen Bob Graham to call for a public hearing on the situation at Bay Pine. Both Graham and congressman Jim Davis held that hearing at Bay pines today, WMNF’s Andrew Stelzer was there and filed this report

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ACT ‘in fiscal 2003…the need is increasing…surgical consultant� Albert Linden, with the disabled veterans of America, says that Florida is one of the few states where populations of veterans is increasing, and the pressure of the department of veterans affairs is struggling to take care of all those people.

ACT “..the VA was never designed for all the veterans.

Two groups of people spent about an hour each talking to Senators Bob Graham And Jim Davis; first, a group representing veterans spoke about the major problems facing bay Pines---a new computer system that may not work, and staff that isn’t happy with several of the hospitals administrators. For the most part, both the veterans and the management team that spoke after them were not specific about which high level administrators were hard to work with; and some of them have already been removed from their jobs.. But Lee Kichen, representing the Veterans of foreign Wars, Said although the problems of bad administrators at the VA, without proper funding, the system cant an wont work.

ACT “all of these problems stem from inadequate funding….�

There were several complaint about how the VA hospital in and veterans in general were not given proper treatment. It was pointed out that because of the way the contract was structured, there is no mechanism to make sure that complaint by the union are resolved; instead management can dismiss the complaint, and can simply state that the problem is not-negotiatable.

Samuel Carranza is a doctor at the VA

ACT

“…the workload has increased, its difficult to se my colleagues working so hard…they are putting out fires all the time…�

Although no one suggested that patients car has suffered as a result of managers that were hard to get along with, and unresponsive to complaints, there were concerns that morale of the staff has been suffering and that could lead to a decline in treatment. These worries were compounded in October, when a new computer system was installed, to track finances and inventories, but the system didn’t work. Non-emergency surgeries were suspended for a week in February, and some veterans had to be sent to outside medical facilities for treatment because of a massive backlog of patients.

Senator graham asked several questions to the second panel, trying to get at the root of what about the computer system failed…for the most part, he was told that the system was ok, but VA staff weren’t trained well enough. Senator Graham then asked about the decision to make the switch over to the new computer system, when employees had never been formally tested on whether they had learned the system well enough to use it.

ACT “apparent before the button was pushed last October.98 out of 100……..it’s a mystery…�

250 million dollars has already been spent on the new computer system, out of a 470 million dollar contract. The company which is contracted to integrate all the VA’s old computer system across the country, Bearingpoint, said they should have done more training, and had more trainers physically present, instead of relying on a help desk that people could call when they have problems. BearingPoint says they are not charging anymore than the original contract allows for additional training.

Graham said it should have been clear that the employees did not understand the new computer system. Smith Jenkins, the Director of Bay Pines, responded.

ACT “they tried hard……�

The allegations of mismanagement at Bay Pines and the computer system are currently the target of multiple federal inquiries. A preliminary VA inspector general report released Friday supported many of the allegations and indicated that the problems have endangered patients. The CORE-FLS computer system was scheduled to be used at other veterans affairs facilities within two years, but VA administrators say that will not happen until the one at Bay Pines is fully Functional, and a better plan is in place. For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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