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Roundtable: San Diego VA Wait Times; JMI's Qualcomm Stadium Plan; Fetal Tissue Research

The front of the San Diego VA Medical Center.
Tarryn Mento
The front of the San Diego VA Medical Center.
Roundtable: San Diego VA Wait Times, JMI's Qualcomm Vision
Roundtable: San Diego VA Wait Times; JMI's Qualcomm Stadium Plan; Fetal Tissue Research
San Diego VA Wait Times, JMI's Qualcomm Stadium Plan, Fetal Tissue ResearchHOST:Mark SauerGUESTS:Steve Walsh, reporter, KPBS Roger Showley, business reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Gary Robbins, science reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Feel tissue research is the subject of a House committee subpoenaed to a San Diego bio company. I am Mark Sauer. Roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion. I'm Mark Sauer. Joining me at the roundtable today, Steve Walsh, reporter, KPBS and Roger Showley, business reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune and Gary Robbins, science reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune The San Diego BA has been touted as a national model but the VA Inspector General down the wait times for San Diego veterans receive medical health services is so long that one better and even tried to commit suicide. The wait times at one point where the longest in the country. The report also showed employees falsified wait times repeatedly cancel appointments. He start with a background on this. Why did the VA embark on this investigation, part of a whole national thing. This goes back to 2014. When we saw scandals erupting with wait times in the Phoenix MBA and others around the country and led to a national push to reform the VA system. He created the veterans choice act which allowed some to go outside the VA for care. All to get these wait times down nationally. While that was going on, the inspector general kept working and there were 70 reports out there looking at BAs around the country to see if they had similar problems. There have been a push by Congress that we need to get all of these out. A lot of this is from back in 2014. What happened in San Diego, there were a group of schedulers in the mental health Department who were his earring out wait times. We during the scheduled to make it appear as if there were no wait times for many veterans or much shorter than originally suggested. While this was going on, inspectors found one person who was on the way call list to have their Putman canceled -- four different times and told inspectors he eventually tried to commit suicide. He became despondent. Ultimately, there are seven different people involved in this. The VA wouldn't say directly whether or not what happened to them. None will be involved in scheduling. They tightened up the rules. Few people have access to the schedules. They say it was an isolated incident. They put blame on one psychiatrist who they say no longer works for the VA. The fish that they canceled abundance in the last minute. You mentioned this will get a look. Employees thought there was cherry picking of who to talk to? If you talk to people at the VA, they say they awarded leadership people that this is going on. They were doing their own inspection, looking at this before the inspectors got here. They made changes since then.. It was a serious issue. They largely concurred. They tackle these issues, they knew this was going on and they solved the problem. What they haven't solved was the fact that the VA in San Diego has had the highest wait times to see a mental health provider. This is a serious issue. Let's get to this clip. Deputy chief for health administration and see what his response was for Chris Becky we instituted an audit program, we have always done audits but it was a much broader. Now we audit every single person. If you single -- if you schedule an appointment your audit every week. We have an institute we're auditing matters as well. We could go down and see us -- shook -- ships coming and going. It's a known problem. What is the VA say about why it hasn't been solved. If you look at the scheduling issues, they say they have a handle in our auditing the auditors. There's a lot of different issues around the country. Here in San Diego, they have seen something like a 10% increase in the amount of veterans seen each year for the past several years. The population is going up. They have multiple open spots. The VA says we are talking about 30 different slots open in the mental health sector. They trying to fill in. You're talking about a profession were psychiatrists are aging. There's seeing retirements, the VA is slow to hire. We talking about a veteran who needs to see someone, It's been that way since 2001 and 9/11. Throughout the wars, the Pentagon budget is what it is. The presidential candidates are rattling sabers. When people get out and they need help and services is the funding simply not there? Two years ago when the surrogate, Congressman $15 billion, five minutes of the VA to start hiring people and expand their facilities, some of these facilities are overcrowded. Even if you could hire someone there's no place to put them inside the VA. They spend $10 million in the veterans choice program that allows people to go out of the VA. That was constructed quickly and we find there's a lot of Yurok receipt involved. Some of the wait times even the scene outside provider. Let's get back to the scandal at hand. He schedulers dishonestly changing records, is that something they did individually or did they get incentives for me more efficient or what was going on? Was their manager telling them to do this? Indeed, indeed. The local VA says this is isolated it was a handful of people. But the inspector general found their emails coming from supervisors telling people to do what they could to zero out these wait times. It goes up at least that far. What reaction are you getting from veterans in the wake of this report? Whenever you do one of these stories you hear from these people. It's anecdotal but you still see you have many of these problems. The people here saying some time back, these things are fixed, who will follow up on that? This is ongoing. This is very specific that happened in 2014 but this issue is something that right now Congress is looking at changing the veterans choice law. They have -- they want to have a revamp by this Memorial Day. Congress is looking at it. Even locally, the director of the VA left in December. It could take them one year before they replaced him. Even though we a people still working there, we still have leadership issues. We will have to see what happens as we move forward. The Chargers will play at least one more season at QUALCOMM Stadium. Developers have been looking at the last site for several years. It's a prime location near a San Diego state, to freeways and it's on a trolley line. Here's how the president and CEO JMI Realty introduced JMI concept. You are there in the audience, can you paraphrase for that? Basically, he leads the company that a former Padres owner runs as a real estate developer company. Last year, he and some of his developer, has got together and said what would happen if the property were available for San Diego state in the West campus. They came up with a plan and that was unveiled -- shared in the community last year and they published about earlier this year and this week, one of the San Diego states real estate Center had a form where the principles talked about it. And laid out the details. According to your story, San Diego state president through the holy water on the concept. That was big news to me. We're trying to see what University thought about this in the cap saying we don't know and all of a sudden he calls the same day this forum took place and he said I like the idea. We'll talk to people in the community and the mayor and see what they think. Let's talk about specifics. What are the elements of this plan? It's a big site. 6 acres. Almost half the size of San Diego state itself. In a River runs through it. With 35,000 students or so have run out of space on the present campuses occupied since 1930s. The idea was perhaps they could open up a West campus on the property. What would you do with it? They said they need a new Stadium to the Aztecs so that may be one element. Much Stoller -- smaller. They need student housing because new -- University is required to have housing for freshmen and sophomores. They also need some of their programs expanding on the campus and don't have room to grow. Those elements plus there's a hotel idea, and office space for a tech firm that may cooperate with the University. And a lot of parkland? This 40 acres of parkland every part of the San Diego River Park. It sounds great. This is a concept at this point, not a lot of specific details orbits or anything like that. The question is, where will he go? We should stop and not do too much planning into we find out if the Chargers will get a new home in downtown. If they don't get it, will they go back to QUALCOMM and press for new Stadium? Or leave altogether? Until the end of the year when the voters speak, well no when the idea has many legs. We should mention, the mayor had this blue-ribbon panel in a hot -- had a whole plan. The Chargers on the show is pushing for a downtown Convadium. Where does Faulkner stand on all this? Has he abandoned QUALCOMM? Has endorsed the Chargers playing? He is an alum of San Diego state. He has allegiance to the universities and naturally he wants the best for his alma mater. The bigger issue is whether the land should be free and given to the University as the JMI people have suggested or should it be a bidding situation for developers bid on the property. If that happens, the University which is usually buy and get it for free may say, I don't know if we can afford hundred $50 million for a stack? This seems like a potentially defining moment for San Diego state. They are out of space. I talked to the president last fall and he says they are serious about making this a major research Institute as well as a teaching Institute. Data hundred $20 million in research last year. Highest in the system. They want to go to 250 million but they need more space. It left me wondering whether they could do it over there and perhaps follow the model of UC Irvine which is a state institution. They set aside a part of the property just for university research industrial Park and brought in industry and is -- history pays leases and helps with the operation of the University and brings scientists onto campus and those scientists interact with the faculty and students. Is San Diego state is serious about becoming one of the elite research institutions, that may be part of the key for the Their pros and cons. The pros for the University is student housing, students wouldn't get parking like they do in other places. It would be one for 12 students or something. The idea is to be transit oriented departments. The downside is -- They could take the bus. If the city opened it up to development and added 6000 housing units, it would put a dent into the housing shortage of San Diego. You got all the infrastructure there. The trolley, etc. Housing prices are astronomical. How can you not consider putting housing their it seems like that -- it's right downtown, primed for density, how could you not go with housing? The housing problem would be you have a much bigger problem of Mission Valley traffic. If you ask thousand students in 1,000,000 ft.² of office space and five hotels and who knows what else, that's 10% of downtown itself. If you overlay the whole property, it takes 60 blocks. It's a huge space. It has been like this for 60 or 50 years. Mission Valley is so densely populated, if you throw another village in there, your overwhelming -- [ Indiscernible - multiple speakers ] People say that but it isn't as bad as people say. Basically, the eastern side of Mission Valley is not as busy as the Western side. But let's make it so. [ Laughter ] You got to have these parts of San Diego close to workplaces and this is an ideal opportunity. We haven't heard from the city leaders, for the mayor. Has he talked to reporters anymore? What's happening on that? He is running for election in about two months. If he gets reelected, he will take positions on everything. We can wait and find out. June will come to head in a lot of ways. A San Diego company is being thrust into a political minefield in the world of science. Fetal tissue research. The mechanism comes in the form of a subpoena issued by antiabortion Republican commerce one from Tennessee. Who is being summoned to Washington and who issued the subpoena? Is a nonprofit called BioMedical Research Institute . It's a Mission Valley. What do they do? They are not biotech? No not at all. If you're going to do research on human, it has to be reviewed and protocols. You need to make sure people are protected. Legally, ethically. Yes, the whole thing. I talk to the director and he said we offer this service to doctors who may want to do research. Campuses like this and UC San Diego have their own IRB. This is a separate one. The Rep. Marsha Blackburn subpoenaed this group. They're trying to see how the groups are interacting with abortion providers in acquiring fetal tissue. What is the process? You're trying to see whether they are selling it in any way, are they going beyond the guidelines? You cannot profit from the sale of feel tissue. It seems to be something of a hunting expedition. Now this man is having to go to Washington next week. That may be understanding it because as I noted from your story, Rep. Marsha Blackburn was head of this particular panel in Washington, the name of this is the house select investigate panel on infant lives. We talking about fetal tissue. We're not talking about taking tissue from infants? No, we're not. Talking about killing babies and that seems to be a political phrase name of the committee. Larry Goldstein, a scientist made this point. They are dealing with fetal tissue that would have otherwise been disposed of. The test -- the scientists are taking tissues from abortions in that material would otherwise have been disposed of. What are they using it for? What are some of the projects and research that we are talking about? They're looking at the basic way cells develop and evolve. They are trying to take these rush cells and coax them into performing certain roles. If you need to repair tissue in the heart, say, can you use these cells? Can your place of entirely?. They've been used in a lot of different ways. Like vaccine development. Also all summer research -- also, Alzheimer's research. He has been to this committee. Yes. He volunteered. He wanted to explain from his point of view how they use mid-to-late -- material. He is a neuroscientist. On the opponents of abortion extends to animals? That you can't take animal fetuses and use them for research? I don't answer that. Animals are routinely used in research. By the thousands. Pigs are used, primates, etc. Maybe Antigonus too far, there's a moral point, I don't know whether we stop at humans or SeaWorld and go backwards to animals in zoos and aquariums and the whole animal kingdom. I wonder whether the moralists in the antiabortion camp will move to that. That brings up the idea of where this is sprang from. This Planned Parenthood video which 20 states have looked at to see if Planned Parenthood is selling body parts? This is almost a local story to us. There's a group called center for medical proper -- progress. They had some people go undercover and recorded sessions with some people from Planned Parenthood. What appears is going on there trying to get the people from Planned Parenthood say they are profiting from fetal tissue. That didn't happen. The grand jury look to the matter and realize, that's not what happened. In fact the grand jury indicted the people doing the filming secretly. This is part of a bigger battle over abortion in the US. We are seeing it everywhere. Texas, everywhere. Have we seen the point where could actually impact local research? Are we seeing it chipping away of the research itself? I don't think it's chipped away. The national institutes of health spent more than $70 million in 2014 for this kind of research from almost 200 organizations. UC San Diego gets a lot of money for things like this. The talking about a greater chilling effect because they have subpoena power on this committee and they have to discuss well, do we subpoena graduate students? Dr. Goldstein says that's McCarthyism. You trying to shut people up and make him say and do certain things. There's fear within the scientific community that these subpoenas in the focus of the group is meant to cell research. We touched on 20 states have looked into Planned Parenthood videos. They have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. It was a Republican DA in Texas indicted the film makers themselves. Is a Planned Parenthood is not to blame and the issued indictments on those the makers. You think that would have a chilling effect on this house panel? You thing. But it's Congress and there's a lot of yelling going on and in this particular case, the Democrats and Republicans have been going at it during the sessions. When Dr. Goldstein appear before the committee he had difficulty in some moments getting his point across because committee members were arguing. They weren't listening to what he was saying. Stepping back, we've seen this as an issue on the Republican side in the presidential campaigns and debates. Carly Fiorina was making outlandish statements about the Planned Parenthood thing. Ted Cruz ascending among Republicans wanting to shut down Congress over Planned Parenthood funding. This is not going away. If you look across the country you see other laws going into effect. Indiana has made it illegal -- not have an abortion based on race, gender or genetic abnormalities. The medical community, doctors encourage people having babies to have prenatal genetic testing. That field is exploding. What they can see ahead of time has become extraordinary. We tell a person, we found something but will not do the right to react to it. Does that spread out of Indiana to other states? If you second let -- left. What is the mission of this panel? Will he recommended legislation? It's not clear. I talked to them. They have one year to get things done and that closes at the end of this year. They say what they are trying to do is inspect whether all the acquisition and transfer tissue in the United States is done in a lawful manner but it's not clear whether they are doing something beyond politicizing the situation. That's what the panel appears to be doing a some what they are saying publicly. This is a presidential election year, this will play out in the spotlight. There is a give-and-take. It could blow up or earn them points in whatever constituency they are playing too. Will watch to see how that plays out. That wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS roundtable. I would like to thank my guests Steve Walsh, reporter, KPBS and Roger Showley, business reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune and Gary Robbins, science reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune. All the stories we discussed are available on our website. I am Mark Sauer, thank you for joining us today on the roundtable.

San Diego VA cited for long wait times, falsifying records

A new report from the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs accuses staff at the San Diego VA Medical Center with falsifying wait times for mental health specialists.

Wait times appeared shorter and medical appointments were canceled arbitrarily, the report said.


One veteran attempted suicide after a mental health professional canceled four appointments in a row.

The audit of the San Diego facility and others around the country covered 2014. After it came out, Ray A. Deal, deputy chief for health administration at the San Diego VA, said the problems with wait times and falsified documents were discovered and remedied months ago.

It has been two years since the inspector general uncovered that VA medical facilities were falsely shortening actual wait times to get medical and mental health care. The San Diego VA currently has the longest wait times in the country, according to the most recent survey of pending appointments. The county has about a quarter million veterans who live here.

The survey said in March that San Diego County veterans waited 13.49 days beyond their preferred date for an appointment. The national wait time averages 4.25 days.

JMI's Qualcomm Stadium vision


When the principals at JMI Realty, including ex-Padres owner John Moores, look at the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley, they don't see a giant concrete white elephant with a very big parking lot.

What they see is a place for San Diego State University to expand. JMI officials and others shared their vision for the city-owned property at a presentation this week on the SDSU campus. It includes building homes for students and faculty, constructing a smaller football stadium for the Aztecs and providing a place for the rest of us to enjoy a restored San Diego River.

Stressing that these are ideas only and not an actual plan with specific financials attached to it, John Kratzer, JMI's president and CEO, told the attendees that the discussion had been percolating for many months. The public announcement was intended to start a public debate about what to do with the stadium site.

JMI's ideas include student and faculty housing, academic and campus space, commercial office and retail space, a hotel, a 30,000- to 40,000-seat stadium, and 40 acres of open space for a river park.

The plan, which includes a 166-acre campus to add to SDSU’s current 225 acres on Montezuma Mesa, was endorsed this week by SDSU President Elliot Hirshman.

SDSU would prefer the city give the land for free, but San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner has already objected to giving away city-owned land, urging joint use and collaboration between the city and SDSU.

The San Diego State Aztecs are seen on the field at Qualcomm Stadium.
The San Diego State Aztecs are seen on the field at Qualcomm Stadium.

San Diego's BioMed company subpoenaed

BioMedical Research Institute of America advises doctors how to lawfully and ethically conduct research studies. The San Diego company has been subpoenaed by the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, said the panel wants to know “what exactly is going on at these abortion businesses and procurement organizations.”

A scientist involved in an Alzheimer’s study at UC San Diego voluntarily appeared before the committee earlier to talk about the uses of fetal tissue in scientific research.

The genesis of these hearings may be videos secretly recorded last year that seemed to show Planned Parenthood offices in many states were trying to illegally profit from selling fetal tissue.

House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives Chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., presides over the committee’s investigating Planned Parenthood, March 1, 2016.
Associated Press
House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives Chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., presides over the committee’s investigating Planned Parenthood, March 1, 2016.