Orlando Update 02: Rain had recently fallen inside the long-awaited Orlando VA Medical Center when members of the Florida congressional delegation gathered 13 AUG near the unfinished facility to find out why the project is off schedule and to determine how much it will exceed cost estimates when done. A roof change is one among hundreds of costly design changes blamed for delaying completion, originally scheduled for October 2012. The hearing, called by House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) did not produce clear answers about when the medical center will be ready to treat some 90,000 veterans in the region, nor how much it will cost in the end. “A billion dollars,” American Legion Department of Florida Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission Chairman Kelton Sweet estimated afterward. “And 2014. I would say about October.” VA and the general contractor, Brasfiled & Gorrie, differ about when the project will be completed and money owed over mid-project design changes. The 1.2-million-square-foot medical center was originally expected to cost $347 million, a figure that has since swollen to $656 million and rising, depending on two uncertain variables: the number of order changes yet to come and what the actual completion date will be.
Design plan changes, both in the form of architectural drawings (foreground), and binders (background), served as props for a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing Monday in Orlando to find out why the new VA medical center project there is behind schedule.
Stacks of color-coded architectural drawings, some more than two feet deep, and rows of binders describing order changes were arranged in front of the congressional panel and as a backdrop to illustrate the project’s many design revisions since ground was broken in 2008. “My single interest is the expeditious completion of this facility for the veterans of central Florida, who have been waiting over a decade for this medical center,” Miller said in the auditorium of a brand-new University of Central Florida College of Medicine Health Sciences. “This project, we need to get off the dime and get it done,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who was joined at the hearing by Reps. Corrine Brown, Gus Bilirakis, Richard Nugent, John Mica, Sandy Adams and Daniel Webster. Brown, a Democrat, and Bilirakis, a Republican, both serve on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “I have been working on getting a veterans hospital built here for over 25 years,” Brown said. “Veterans can’t wait. “I am 78 years old and still no hospital,” said Sweet, a military retiree who has been closely involved with efforts to build a new VA medical center in Orlando since the mid-1980s when central Florida was first identified as a high priority for a full-service, around-the-clock inpatient veterans health-care facility. Veterans requiring full inpatient care still have to travel two or more hours to receive it in Tampa. “It's all very frustrating,” Sweet said.
As the years passed and conflicts arose over where to locate the facility, funding opportunities came and went. The 2004 Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) report made it clear that Orlando was past due for a VA medical center of its own. Once it was finally budgeted, the new veterans hospital was expected to be a cornerstone in a new “medical city” in southern Orlando that would complement the Central Florida University medical school, two academic research centers, alongside a new children’s hospital that is now nearly finished. “Our VA medical center, which was scheduled to be complete by October of this year, the anchor of this city, is still an empty shadow,” Miller said. “Four years and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars later, VA has yet to yield anything near the same results as its neighbors. Brand-new state-of-the-art facilities are all around us. Students are being educated, and VA can’t even turn the lights on, much less accept visitors inside their facility.”
VA issued a Contract Cure Notice in June to Brasfield & Gorrie. Company officials at Monday’s hearing argued that neither final cost nor exact completion date could be set because change orders continue to arrive, disrupting work flow and leading to problems like the unfinished roof that has allowed rainwater into the building, rusting some of the medical equipment inside. “Changes are still coming,” explained Jim Gorrie, president and chief executive officer for Brasfield & Gorrie, who added that VA’s final list of medical equipment for the hospital has yet to appear. “I can’t commit to something I don’t have. You have to have a direction. We haven’t gotten it yet.” VA and the contractor are meeting this month to resolve the problem and get the project back on track. VA officials estimated that a change of contractor could delay the project an additional eight to 10 months and balloon the final costs even more. [Source: American Legion Online Update 16 Aug 2012 ++]
Las Vegas: In response to the growing health care needs of Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened a new Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Las Vegas, with the dedication ceremony held 6 AUG. It was the first new medical center opened in 17 years. “This is, importantly, a promise kept with the 164,000 Veterans who live in Clark, Nye, and Lincoln counties, and all 234,000 Veterans who call Nevada home, as well as Veterans from surrounding states who will find here the care and compassion they seek,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who provided keynote remarks at the dedication ceremony. “As President Obama recently told the Veterans of Foreign Wars: ‘We keep our promises.’” Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s Under Secretary for Health said, “The Las Vegas VAMC underscores VA’s commitment to provide the best care anywhere to America’s Veterans, particularly in the critical area of mental health. The opening of this world-class facility is another milestone, and ensures VA provides the care and services our Veterans have earned through their service.” The brand-new $600 million facility will have 90 inpatient beds, a 120-bed community living center (skilled nursing home care facility), and an ambulatory care center. The 90 inpatient beds include a state-of-the-art 22-bed mental health unit, 48 medical/surgical beds, and 20 intensive care unit beds.
The outpatient mental health clinic will be operational the month. The clinic will provide specialized treatment programs for general mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, gambling addiction, and other unique services such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for the treatment of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other conditions. The mental health section has ample patient parking and is located next to the main facility. The inpatient unit is directly above the outpatient mental health clinic, and is in close proximity to the main facility. Beyond the mental health services, the new VAMC will provide 23 dental exam chairs; 13 surgical, 14 radiology, and 6 audiometric sound suites; as well as a 268 seat food court. A phased opening is planned for August through December 2012. The center will possess a telehealth unit, with bidirectional just-in-time communication capability with its outlying clinics. This allows doctors to deliver specialized mental health and other services to
these clinics. The VAMC and its outlying clinics are also equipped with “smart boards,” to enhance continuing education for staff and patients. The new facility meets the latest environmental standards. Portions of the parking areas will have overhead solar panels to provide additional energy to the campus. [Source: VA News Release 6 Aug 2012 ++]