Miami-Dade County

U.S. Reps. demand accountability after closed-door meetings with Miami VA

Following a series of closed-door meetings with administrators of the Miami VA Healthcare System on Monday, members of Congress from Miami-Dade said they want more accountability and consequences for failures in the Miami system.

“We’re sick of the manipulation of data, the lack of accountability,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said of the scandals rocking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital system nationwide, before turning her attention to the Miami VA.

Citing “wait times, security lapses at the drug rehab center, a chief of staff that there have been some questions about his medical record,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “We want immediate answers.”

Those in the best position to provide answers — the Miami VA’s top administrators — met with Ros-Lehtinen and fellow Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on Monday after a separate closed-door session with another Miami-Dade politician, Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat.

Among the VA managers in attendance at both meetings were Paul Russo, administrator of the Miami VA, and Vincent DeGennaro, a physician and chief of staff who surrendered his New York medical license in 2009 after Florida’s medical board censured and fined him in the case of a patient who died under his care at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen noted that the Miami VA was at the center of a scandal in 2009, when it was revealed that more than 2,400 local veterans had colonoscopies at the VA hospital that might have exposed them to infections.

“Fast forward to a few years later,” Ros-Lehtinen said, “and here we are with the same sort of issues about lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, lack of follow-through, and you hear from them that they’re doing everything right.

“If they’re doing everything right,” she said of the Miami VA’s administrators, “how can all these things be going wrong?”

Despite persistent concerns about the Miami VA, including a VA Office of Inspector General report noting security lapses and other failures with the hospital system’s drug rehabilitation program — including one veteran who died of a drug overdose in the drug treatment unit — none of Miami-Dade’s congressional representatives called for DeGennaro or any other administrator to step down.

“My job isn’t to find a scapegoat,” Garcia said, adding that “for right now, we do” have confidence in DeGennaro.

Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said DeGennaro had provided them with “documentation” regarding his medical record — though they did not specify what those documents were — and said they’ve asked for more.

“At this time we’re going to withhold judgment, I am, until we see the documentation,” Ros-Lehtinen said.