VA says Bay Pines Vets’ Care Falls Short
Since 2009 VA records show at least 31 former patients treated at Bay Pines VA died from suicide
by Howard Altman
The Tampa Tribune, June 24, 2012
As the military struggles to cope with an alarming suicide level among veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time is monitoring how its hospitals handle patients making the critical transition from hospitalization to living on their own.
The first published review in the country: Bay Pines VA Health Care System near St. Petersburg.
The results are eye-opening.
The VA’s Office of Inspector General pulled the records of 20 discharged mental health patients at Bay Pines and found that the hospital failed to provide timely follow-up care to eight of those patients.
Inspectors also checked the records of 10 patients considered at high risk of suicide and found the hospital didn’t provide follow-up care in a timely manner for three of those patients.
VA regulations require that all discharged patients receive follow-up contact within seven days of being discharged. If that contact is by phone, an in-person or remote health evaluation must take place in two weeks. High-risk patients must receive two outpatient follow-up evaluations within 14 days of discharge and two more within 15 to 30 days.
The stakes are high.
Mental health experts say the transition from being hospitalized to living on their own is a crucial time — maybe the most crucial time — for patients at risk of committing suicide.
“Continuity of care is a critical issue, particularly for suicidal patients,” said David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies.
“Follow-up post-discharge is a contextual warning sign for those with inpatient stays or emergency room referrals for suicidality. Given the significance of suicide risk for veterans, the efforts to track follow-up efforts in the VA system is essential.”
Since 2009, there have been 31 confirmed suicides of patients who had been treated by Bay Pines, according to spokesman Jason Dangel.
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