The postponements will add to an already formidable backlog at the hospital because of problems in stocking medical supplies.
By PAUL DE LA GARZA
Published February 14, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Hospital officials on Friday ordered the postponement of all surgeries next week at Bay Pines VA Medical Center because of continuing problems in acquiring surgical supplies.
The move will affect about 50 people next week, adding to the hundreds of patients already waiting because of a staggering backlog in recent months, Bay Pines spokesman Larry Christman said.
In orthopedics alone, 100 patients have been scheduled for surgery, Christman said, and another 100 are waiting to be scheduled.
"Some specialties are more backlogged than others," he said. "The cancellations don't help."
The ban could be extended if problems persist, Christman said.
Bay Pines has had problems keeping surgical supplies in stock since October, when the hospital became a test site for a new controversial computer system to be used by the Department of Veterans Affairs nationwide.
The Core Financial and Logistics System, or CoreFLS, computer program was developed to track and control finances, vendor payouts and supply inventories.
In addition to the problems with surgical supplies, hospital staff members complain that they cannot keep track of expenditures. Vendors say they're not getting paid.
Backers of CoreFLS, which cost $450-million to develop, say the system works fine. They blame hospital staff members, saying employees are not learning how to use it.
But critics of CoreFLS say the system is flawed. For example, they say the three separate systems that compose CoreFLS don't fully communicate with one another.
Marty Traxler, who is in charge of CoreFLS at Bay Pines, acknowledged problems with the software but said they are not insurmountable. He thinks the problem lies with hospital staff.
"What has caused us to be delayed lately," Traxler said, "is the learning curve."
He said about 700 people use CoreFLS at Bay Pines, including 100 as the main part of their jobs.
The way the computer system was introduced to Bay Pines has raised questions, which are expected to be addressed during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in March. Last week, VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi visited Bay Pines to review the system.
For example, why did the VA Department settle on Bay Pines, not a smaller facility, to test the system?
With 750,000 outpatient visits a year and about 10,000 inpatient admissions, Bay Pines is the second-busiest VA hospital in the country.
Also, why didn't hospital staff get better training to use Core-FLS?
In preparation for the introduction of the system Oct. 6, Bay Pines employees were told to become familiar with it based on information from the Internet. Hospital staff did not receive hands-on training until November, Traxler said.
In hindsight, Traxler said, it would have made sense for employees to get hands-on training before Bay Pines began using the system.
"I think we're going to show marked improvement within the next 90 to 180 days," Traxler said. "Much of what is happening right now would be expected. It's a test."
The James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa, the busiest VA hospital in the country, had been scheduled to begin using CoreFLS this month.
But because of the numerous setbacks, the start-up date was delayed until March.
On Thursday, Haley officials were informed by the VA Department that they will not be getting the system until April.
Bay Pines has had trouble keeping basic hospital supplies in stock since October, which has led to a series of surgery delays.
As a result, Traxler said, Bay Pines has had to turn to other hospitals for supplies, which he characterized as common practice among hospitals.
Christman pointed out that surgeries require scores of supplies, from bandages to catheters. Because of glitches withCoreFLS, or problems with staff learning how to use the system, the supplies are not getting to the hospital.
To help address the problem, Bay Pines will bring in supply experts from other VA hospitals in Florida, he said.
And last week, Dr. Pramod K. Mohanty, chief of staff at the hospital, ordered surgeons to limit major surgeries to one a day because of the surgical supply shortage.
On Friday morning, Smith Jenkins and Mohanty told other hospital staff of the decision to call off all surgeries next week.
Patients were to be contacted immediately. In case of emergencies, Christman said, Bay Pines will make arrangements to send patients to area hospitals.
Hospital officials will decide at the end of next week whether to resume the surgeries.
"The patient-safety concern is driving this process to curtail surgeries for one week," Christman said.
The delayed surgeries come on top of other problems for Bay Pines.
A few weeks ago, VA investigators from South Florida and Puerto Rico began looking into allegations that the quality of care at the hospital has suffered as a result of mismanagement.
They also are looking into reports that the hospital is a hostile work environment.