Overdue and $1 billion over budget, Aurora VA hospital will likely open incomplete and understaffed, document says

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 27: Patients wait for their appointments Thursday, July 27, 2017 at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Denver. Wait times for medical appointments at veterans facilities in eastern Colorado and the Denver area are among the worst in the nation. The average wait for a primary care appointment at the Denver VA Medical Center has grown to more than 18 days as of July 1. (Photo by Daniel Brenner/Special to the Denver Post)

WASHINGTON — In a matter of weeks, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to announce that it has all but completed construction of a new hospital in Aurora — a major milestone for a project that drew national outrage in 2015 when the agency admitted it was $1 billion over budget.

But according to a congressional document obtained by The Denver Post, the Jan. 23 target will be little more than an illusion as the team building the $1.7 billion facility expects to spend several more months finishing hundreds of items on its to-do list.

Even then, the project is unlikely to reach its full potential when it opens later this year.

Officials at the VA are “pessimistic” about filling all the jobs at the new hospital in time for its planned summer opening, which “may reduce services initially offered,” according to the latest findings.

Old hospital likely to stay open at least 3 years

Further — because of the way the new hospital campus was built — there won’t be enough space for facilities such as a rehabilitation center for veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The shortcoming means it’s likely the VA will keep open for at least three years the Denver hospital that the Aurora campus is supposed to replace.

The timeline could stretch even longer if Congress doesn’t approve the VA’s request to spend millions of additional dollars to construct another building at the new campus, though the whole situation is going to cost taxpayers either way — as keeping open the old facility is also expensive.

“Operating both (VA medical centers) will also generate excess security, logistics, facilities management, food service, and administrative staffing costs in the low tens of millions” of dollars, according to a draft document prepared for the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The new list of problems is sure to draw renewed attention to the project, which largely has gone unnoticed since 2015, when the VA revealed the project was $1 billion over budget and years behind schedule.

The admission briefly put the project’s funding in jeopardy — as several members of Congress questioned whether it should give the VA more money to finish it.

Ultimately, they relented, but the episode prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take charge of the project and compel the VA to change how it undertakes large-scale construction.

Congressional hearing on hospital set for next week

On Friday, three members of Congress toured the construction site: Colorado lawmakers Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter, and Phil Roe, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the House veterans committee.

His panel has a hearing planned for Wednesday that will examine the project’s progress.

Said Coffman, a longtime critic of the VA’s management of the new hospital: “I certainly remain very frustrated in terms of where we are right now.”

In response to questions about the project’s progress, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency “continues to work closely with its project partners to resolve issues as they arise.”

Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver PostDENVER, COLORADO – JULY …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – News


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