Late Breaking News
Construction Delays Mount Up for VAMCs - Congressmembers Call Process 'Abysmal'
By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — In the wake of a recent federal report finding that schedules have been delayed and costs substantially increased for VA medical construction projects in Las Vegas, Denver, Orlando and New Orleans, a key legislator called the agency’s construction program “dysfunctional.”
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said VA continues to “employ policies and techniques that have repeatedly fallen short.”
“When VA does healthcare right, it can be second to none,” he said at a congressional hearing on the report. “However, the process VA employs to build its healthcare facilities is abysmal, and the result leads to delays for much needed care to veterans.”
According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), cost increases for the four medical centers ranged from 59% to 144%, representing a total cost increase of nearly $1.5 billion and an average increase of approximately $366 million per project. The schedule delays ranged from 14 to 74 months with an average delay of 35 months per project.
At each of the four locations reviewed, different factors contributed to cost increases and schedule delays, according to Lorelei St. James, GAO director of physical infrastructure issues. Some of these reasons were beyond VA’s control, she pointed out.
“Due to Hurricane Katrina, construction costs in Las Vegas skyrocketed. In Denver and New Orleans political pressure including pressure from some veterans’ groups moved VA to change from shared facilities to standalone facilities,” she told lawmakers.
In Orlando, the site changed three times from 2004 to 2010, once because VA did not move quickly enough to secure needed land, she said.
Unanticipated events in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Denver also led to delays. For example, VA officials at the Denver project site discovered they needed to eradicate asbestos and replace faulty electrical systems from pre-existing buildings. They also discovered and removed a buried swimming pool and found a mineral-laden underground spring that forced them to continually treat and pump the water from the site, according to GAO.
The report also cited weaknesses in VA’s construction management processes as contributing to problems.
For example, GAO found that, while many healthcare organizations use medical equipment planners to help match required medical equipment to the construction of the facility, GAO found that for costly and complex facilities, “VA does not have guidance for how to involve medical equipment planners during each construction stage of a major hospital and has sometimes relied on local VHA staff with limited experience in procuring medical equipment to make medical-equipment-planning decisions.”
“In Orlando, medical equipment specifications changed several times and led to cost increases of at least $14 million in addition to schedule delays, as these issues forced VA to suspend construction until the issues were resolved,” according to the written testimony of St. James. “In our April 2013 report, we recommended that the Secretary of VA develop and implement agency guidance to assign of medical equipment planners to major medical construction projects. VA agreed and said it planned to address this recommendation.”