The Veterans Affairs Department will close three hospitals in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Mississippi and build two new ones in Nevada and Florida as part of much-anticipated restructuring plan, The Associated Press has learned.
The agency also will add or remove medical services at dozens of other facilities.
VA Secretary Anthony Principi also has endorsed building 156 community-based outpatient clinics by 2012, with an emphasis on serving rural areas. Local VA officials had sought 270 clinics.
Principi was to release the plan Friday in Las Vegas. Several congressional officials who had seen it described the contents to the AP in advance.
Changes part of broader restructuring plan
The department undertook the restructuring two years ago to shift services to areas where veteran populations are increasing and to modernize outdated buildings and shed vacant space.
Under the plan, the VA expects to reduce costs for maintaining vacant space from $3.4 billion to $750 million by 2022 but projects spending $6 billion on new construction during that time.
A draft plan last summer that recommended closing seven hospitals drew opposition from local officials and veterans in those communities. An independent commission examined that plan and narrowed the list of closures.
After reviewing the commission recommendations, Principi decided to close three hospitals, in Pittsburgh; Brecksville, Ohio, and Gulfport, Miss. The hospitals must have a plan for closure by September. It was not immediately clear when they will shut their doors.
A fourth hospital, in Livermore, Calif., will have all its services except long-term care transferred elsewhere. However, a new VA nursing home will be established there.
New hospitals in Nevada and Florida
The VA plans to continue studying ways to cut costs. Representatives from veterans groups who met with Principi on Thursday were told the agency would not close or eliminate services at any other locations before new or replacement services are available elsewhere in the area.
The department will build new hospitals in Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. The VA also wants to build new rehabilitation centers for the blind in Biloxi, Miss., and Long Beach, Calif., and place new spinal cord centers in Denver, Minneapolis, Syracuse or Albany, N.Y., and Little Rock, Ark.
Among the VA facilities that will lose services is the hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y. It had been on the list to be closed, but Principi decided instead to transfer inpatient psychiatric beds to Buffalo or Syracuse and ordered officials to come up with a plan for making the campus more efficient. The hospital has nearly 1,000 beds but only 166 patients on average.
Congress will review Principi’s decision. It cannot change the plan but does have authority to determine whether to fund the changes. Congress had been unwilling to approve money for construction until the department came up with a restructuring plan.
There are an about 25 million veterans in the country, with more than 7 million enrolled in VA health care.