Edward Rupertas has pancreatic cancer.
A retired Tampa Bay area Coast Guard veteran told local reporters today that doctors at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines took over five weeks to begin treating him for inoperable pancreatic cancer, a form of cancer which will likely take his life within the next year.
Edward Rubertas, 57, has been retired from the U.S. Coast Guard since 2000. A resident of the Pinellas County town of Seminole, he told reporters today that though he considers the VA to be a "phenomenal" system for delivering basic health care, he is seriously angry with Bay Pines officials for their dealings with him after they told him in March of his serious medical condition. His comments come as the spotlight has been shining on the problems with the Veterans Affairs Health Care System, which is charged with treating the country's military veterans.
Rubertas was given the devastating diagnosis that he had pancreatic cancer on March 11. But instead of being immediately given a protocol for treatment for the tumor (which at this stage is now inoperable), he said he waited for weeks and weeks before a follow-up visit took place on April 23 to begin chemotherapy treatments.
"They knew about it. They didn't do the right followup about it, okay?"
Rubertas said that once he was diagnosed depression immediately sank in, but he wasn't given any counseling or directed to anyone else to talk to after receiving his diagnosis. He says that he told Bay Pines doctors the day he was diagnosed to "do what you need to do" in order to start treating his cancer, but instead says nothing happened for well over a month. He says he's never been told why it took so long to get treatment.
Rubertas' problems with Bay Pines transcend the doctors. He says on one occasion he ended up getting into an argument with somebody in the patient advocacy office who ended up threatening him after he complained about his situation. Police were called and escorted Rubertas out of the hospital.
Rubertas was not officially involved with the press conference that CD13 Representative David Jolly hosted at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus Tuesday morning, but sat in the back of a conference room, out of the media's gaze. Accompanied by his son afterwards, he told reporters firsthand the details of his troubling situation at Bay Pines, which so far has not been accused of having long waiting lists for medical care, an issue that has dominated the Washington landscape over the past week.
Rubertas says his troubles with Bay Pines actually began last September, when he was treated for issues with his bladder. Although the biopsy was negative, he says he learned later after reviewing his medical records that in fact that it was listed as "bladder cancer." "That should have put something in the primary care physician's mind that there's a problem here," he says; instead, the doctor told him there was nothing to worry about.
"There's a lot of things wrong with the VA system," he says, adding that people with whom he has spoken at the hospital (and whom he did not identify) told him that "they're covering up things all over the place here."
Rubertas contacted Jolly's office last month, and on April 18 the congressman sent a letter to Bay Pines Director Suzanne Klinker requesting that Rubertas' treatment be outsourced to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Preston Rudie, Jolly's spokesman, says that though Klinker never responded back by letter, Jolly's office was verbally contacted and told that his treatment had been scheduled for a few days later and would be handed inside Bay Pines. That's what happened, with Rubertas getting his first chemo treatment on April 23.
Bay Pines Director Klinker was traveling and not available for comment today, but CL did speak with the hospital's public information officer, Jason Dangel, who said that he couldn't address Rubertas' complaints specifically.
Rubertas was joined by his son Ben when speaking with members of the media today. Rubertas says he plans on relocating out to Spokane with the rest of his family soon.