New head of Haley hospital faces tough audience

The new head of the Tampa Bay VA hospital, the James Haley Medical Center, the busiest VA hospital in the nation, faced a firestorm of complaints during a town hall he hosted Thursday evening in the hospital's auditorium.


"They put a gun on their back and drew fire," said Mary Kurk of Zephyrhills, whose husband is being treated for cancer. "We promised them as this country, we would take care of them when they got home, with the utmost respect they deserved. They don't get it here."


Complaints range from inattentive doctors to violations of privacy laws to bad communication with hospital staff.


Haley hospital cares for 90,000 veterans a year and sees 1.2 million patients on an outpatient basis.


"Sometimes, even the best systems may fail somewhere," said director Joe Battle. "I think and know this is a very good hospital overall.”


Battle takes over as a national group takes aim at the entire VA with a billboard posted near I-275 claiming the VA isn't up front about its problems.


The billboard says, "VA lies, Vets die."


Battle says he can't speak for the entire VA, but argues Haley hospital performs well when compared to others in the system.


"Somebody asked me if I was a veteran and if I get my care here," he said. "I am not a veteran, but on the other hand, I would get my care here in a heartbeat."


Some did applaud the hospital.


"I have had nothing but wonderful care here," one said.


Battle made several pledges to patients who logged patients on Thursday.

-To follow-up on each complaint

-To improve the hospital's system of receiving phone calls

-To make it easier for patients to acquire private rooms


"We are a good hospital, but there is always room to improve things," he said.


Patients say they will believe the changes when they see them.


"I don't know if they are listening," said Kurk. "I hope they listen."