Principi To Announce Three Veterans Affairs Hospital Closures, Three Openings
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi is expected to announce on Friday that the department will build three new hospitals and 156 outpatient clinics, as well as close three hospitals over the next eight years in response to population shifts and maintenance costs, USA Today reports (Welch, USA Today, 5/7). VA officials in March recommended to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that the department close or downsize several hospitals. The recommendations came from a report conducted by the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services Commission. In August, VA proposed closing seven old or underused hospitals, constructing new facilities and moving services closer to areas where veterans live (California Healthline, 3/4). It is unclear whether Principi decided to take CARES' recommendation completely or only in part, according to the Contra Costa Times (Brewer, Contra Costa Times, 5/7). Principi is expected to announce spending $1 billion per year through 2011 to close hospitals in Ohio, Mississippi and Pittsburgh, and open new facilities in Orlando, Colorado and Las Vegas. The new outpatient clinics will be built in 33 states to "serve an aging population," while eight smaller hospitals will lose inpatient beds, USA Today reports (USA Today, 5/7). VA expects the plan will cut from $3.4 billion to $750 million by 2022 the cost of maintaining vacant space (AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/7). According to a 1999 General Accounting Office report, VA spends as much as $1 million per day to maintain vacant and underused facilities (USA Today, 5/7). While VA will continue to look for ways to cut costs, the department will not eliminate services at any other facilities before building replacement services in those areas, Principi has said (AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/7). Congress will have 60 days to consider the plan (California Healthline, 3/4).
While the details of Principi's plans still are unclear, John Brieden, American Legion national commander, said that he hopes VA arrived at its decision after "looking at mental health and long-term care." Brieden added, "We didn't want the VA to make decisions based on only partial information that would impact those areas" (AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/7). Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said VA should not to close facilities "until they have the money to build new ones, and there's nothing in the future year's budget for the VA to build new facilities." She added that the Bush administration "has continuously cut the VA by billions of dollars" (Contra Costa Times, 5/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.