Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Go Your Own Way

The Veterans Administration will probably decide to move forward with building their new VA hospital without the state.

BATON ROUGE -- In a move that could scuttle a long-planned collaboration with Louisiana State University, federal Veterans Affairs Department officials said Monday that they will look for an alternative to the downtown New Orleans site that has been identified as the location for a new hospital complex.

The potential change of plans, prompted by recent delays in state financing caused by the debate over the future of Louisiana health care, is scheduled to be announced this morning at a congressional hearing. It comes after more than a year of planning by the VA and LSU to develop a 37-acre medical campus.

Although both LSU and the VA say they remain committed to the project, which would consist of two separate hospitals that share common features such as parking, cafeteria and laundry facilities, the planning process remains clouded by questions of what the region's health-care system should be like in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Unfortunately, the state is still clueless.
"It concerns LSU that something has happened which is causing the VA to look elsewhere," LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe said.
C'mon. The reason is obvious. Since the state is still unable to decide what the nature of the future of its Charity healthcare system, the VA is not willing to wait for it to make up its mind.

But this is not necessarily bad news for New Orleans. Although the federal government's land acquisition for land will be more difficult without the state's involvement, it is not impossible and will have one of two consequences:
  1. Force the state to get off the pot and move forward with rebuilding the Charity Hospital.
  2. Speed up the process of rebuilding which the new hospital will be a major part of.
Unfortunately, the governor seems to be no closer to making up her mind.

A state legislative committee has agreed to provide $74 million in federal block-grant financing for land acquisition and architectural design, but the money still needs approval by the full Legislature and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

Another $226 million in federal money would be made available once LSU produces a detailed business plan for the new hospital, and the rest of the project, which could cost up to $950 million, would be financed mainly with state-issued revenue bonds.

Blanco said the VA's wavering adds to the urgency for the Legislature to approve the financing.

"This only underscores the need to move forward and fund this project -- the VA realizes the critical need and is acting to meet it, with or without us," Blanco said.

Gov. Blanco needs to read the previous paragraph. The state gets no money till a business plan is submitted, but she continues to wave the tin cup first as if to say 'give me the money first, then I'll tell you what I plan on doing with it'.

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