VA offers plan to close hospitals, build clinics
VA Secretary Anthony Principi seeks billions of dollars for construction of outpatient facilities.
The Veterans Affairs Department unveiled an ambitious plan Friday to reshape its health care system that involves closing three hospitals and opening dozens of outpatient clinics.
The VA's Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services plan lays out a 20-year strategy for construction and consolidation of medical facilities serving veterans. CARES was developed to lay the groundwork for lawmakers to appropriate the billions of dollars needed to modernize and revamp the VA health care system, VA Secretary Anthony Principi said at a news conference Friday.
Principi said CARES addresses the migration of veterans to warm climates in the South and West, as well as the needs of veterans who live in rural areas. He said the plan provides a "well-reasoned road map to the 21st century."
The Associated Press reported Friday that under CARES, the VA will close three hospitals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Mississippi and build two new ones in Nevada and Florida.
The plan also proposes to build 156 outpatient clinics by 2012. Principi noted that 80 percent of the health care provided by VA is outpatient care. Principi is planning to send Congress a five-year construction management plan next week laying out the first 30 major CARES projects.
The VA already has $1.1 billion in hand for planning and design in fiscal 2004. Only two of the first 30 projects are ready for construction. White House officials are seeking another $1 billion in fiscal 2005. Principi said construction would cost about $1 billion per year "for at least the next 5 or 6 years."
The latest version of CARES scales back efforts to close hospitals. An August 2003 called for hospital closures in Canandaigua, N.Y.; Lexington, Ky.; Livermore, Calif., and Waco, Texas, in addition to the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Mississippi closures.
Principi promised Friday that the facilities slated for closure would not be shut down before construction was completed on the new projects.
"No veteran will lose health care as a result of CARES, nor will there be any gaps in health care services," Principi said. "I am committed to mitigating any perceived adverse impact."