Consultant expects longer Omaha VA hospital funding delay

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Federal funding to build a replacement for Omaha’s aging Department of Veterans Affairs hospital may be even further away than expected, according to a consultant’s report released Monday.

An analysis by Omaha-based Booz Allen Hamilton for the VA said funding now could be delayed until the late 2020s. The analysis points to a $9 billion backlog of approved projects and VA infrastructure needs that could reach $60 billion.

“There never really was any real chance there was going to be a new hospital here,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford.

A 2007 study found the hospital was plagued by problems in its electrical system, heating and cooling systems. In 2011 the VA unveiled plans for a 1 million-square-foot replacement in Omaha to serve Nebraska and western Iowa veterans. Congress approved $56 million to start the project planning, and it tentatively was scheduled to open in 2018.

Ashford said Monday that he intends to spend the summer working with the VA and veterans and health care professionals to come up with a recommendation on how to move forward and in what direction, as guided by the VA consultant’s report.

The consultant’s report said it boiled down 28 options and variations to six that vary from doing virtually nothing to address the hospital’s problems to building a replacement structure on the same east-central Omaha site.

Among the six options is renovating Creighton University Medical Center, an idea that surfaced in September. CHI Health announced in August, when it was known as Alegent Creighton Health, that it would close the Creighton hospital, move inpatient services to Bergan Mercy Medical Center in 2017 and build a $35 million outpatient and emergency services facility in north Omaha.

Renovating the Creighton hospital to meet the VA’s needs could cost about $250 million, an Omaha engineering firm has said, compared with the $560 million estimated for a complete replacement.

The consultant listed the 400,000 square feet of additional space as one of the Creighton advantages, but it also noted as disadvantages the lack of room for growth, parking problems and what the report said were “patient and staff safety concerns due to higher crime rates in neighborhood.”

The Omaha hospital serves more than 160,000 veterans in the VA’s Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System.

In an unrelated report about the Nebraska-western Iowa system, the Omaha World-Herald said two recent audits by the VA inspector general showed few problems in the areas analyzed.

The audits were routine, system spokesman Will Ackerman told the World-Herald ( ), and were not prompted by any complaints.

The auditors offered recommendations on correcting deficiencies noted in training and record-keeping.

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