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Think Tank Shines Light On Understaffed Veterans Hospitals

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Tampa.VA.gov
The nonprofit Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute says there are a high number of staff vacancies at Florida VA hospitals. This is the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa.

Veterans hospitals across Florida are understaffed and the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute says the pressures the coronavirus pandemic has put on the health care system makes filling those vacancies even more important.

The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute is a nonprofit founded by veterans, health care workers and journalists to provide information that will help lead to better healthcare for veterans.

The group says Florida is in bad shape when it comes to taking care of its veteran population. That’s partly because of a high number of vacancies at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

“The Miami VA currently has 310 vacancies, West Palm Beach has 465, Gainesville is at 1,054 staff vacancies, Tampa is at 463 vacancies, and in Orlando there are only three,” says Brett Copeland, executive director of the institute. “So, there’s still a lot of work to do as it comes to staffing up the VA and making sure that basic care can be provided at these facilities.”

The group says those vacancies are even more problematic during a global pandemic when veterans are directed to private health care providers who may already be facing an influx of patients caused by COVID-19, and who don’t know exactly how to care for veterans.

Suzanne Gordon is a health care journalist and researcher who helped co-found the institute.

“Most private sector providers, the average for example primary care provider, may have one to five veterans among their 2,100 to 3,100 patients. The VA knows about these problems because that’s all they care for is veterans, it’s a population health system. It’s like a pediatric hospital or cancer hospital.”

Since March, the Veterans Health Administration has hired more than 24,000 people.

The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute is pushing for more hires to fill vacancies. The group also wants to see care at the hospitals be expanded for all veterans and their families.