North Texas Congressional Leaders Push VA to Open Clinic at Defunct Garland Hospital - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

North Texas Congressional Leaders Push VA to Open Clinic at Defunct Garland Hospital

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    Lawmakers Push VA to Open Clinic at Defunct Garland Hospital

    North Texas has one of the fastest growing veteran populations in the country. But leaders say available resources for them -- particularly when it comes to health care -- aren't keeping pace. It's why members of Congress from both parties are banding together and urging the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to open a new clinic in Garland. (Published Sunday, July 28, 2019)

    The signs that line the entrance are all stripped. The building facade is bare. What was once Baylor Scott & White Garland is now an empty building.

    The medical center closed earlier this year and is looking for a new owner.

    U.S Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX District 32), whose district includes Garland, said he has one in mind.

    "Our need for increased capacity, for places for our vets to go get the care they need is just going up," Allred said.

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    A member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, he said he believes the site would be perfect for a new VA clinic.

    "It costs so much more to build a facility from the ground up than it does to take over an existing facility that was made for health care," Allred said. "This would save us millions of dollars, help us serve 184,000 more veterans here in North Texas -- and it's just a win, win, win."

    Several of his North Texas colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, agreed.

    Last week, Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas District 6), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas District 30), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas District 12), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas District 33), Rep. Van Taylor (R-Texas District 3) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas District 26) joined Allred in signing a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, urging it to acquire the property.

    The letter noted the center "could be donated" to the VA.

    "It's a life saver for a tremendous amount of veterans," said Paul Hendricks, executive director of the Veterans Center of North Texas. "We are behind this 100%."

    The Veterans Center of North Texas is a nonprofit based out of Plano that helps connect veterans in six counties to services and resources.

    Hendricks said the existing VA health system provides excellent care, but was overwhelmed by the growing number of vets that require its services. 

    According to the VA's website, the current wait time for a veteran to receive an appointment at the Dallas VA Medical Center -- the largest VA facility in the region -- is 18 days. Veterans with more urgent healthcare problems can request same-day service, but often have to wait hours before they're seen.

    Hendricks said another issue local veterans run into is accessibility, noting that a gap existed on the east side of Dallas-Fort Worth -- forcing those veterans to drive long distances to receive care.

    "[A Garland clinic] would take a tremendous amount of pressure off the Dallas facility," Hendricks said. "And it would make it much more convenient for those veterans that live in the Garland area and to the east to get the services that they need and deserve."

    Allred said if the VA was able to acquire the Garland property, it would need some additional updates and retrofits before it could operate. But he remained optimistic they could make it work.

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    "It's going to require us to stay on it and make sure that the bureaucratic red tape doesn't get in the way," Allred said. "And if anything does come up, we can try to tackle whatever that issue is."

    Baylor Scott & White issued the following statement to NBC 5.

    “For some time, we have engaged in discussions with a number of organizations in an effort to secure owners or occupants that would be complementary to the Garland community. To date, we have had preliminary conversations with the VA in North Texas; however, no decisions have been made. We are encouraged by this opportunity to support our veterans and committed to keeping the community informed of any updates.”

    A spokesperson for the VA said, "The VA appreciates the lawmakers' concerns and will respond to them directly."

    Below is the full text of the letter the North Texas lawmakers sent to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    The Honorable Robert Wilkie

    Secretary

    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

    810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.

    Washington, D.C. 20520

    Dear Secretary Wilkie

    We write to encourage you to expeditiously consider the potential for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to acquire a recently closed 470,000 square foot hospital in Garland, Texas. We understand the hospital is valued at $400 million and could be donated to VA. As we learned from the behavioral health center in Denton, private entities can help the VA fulfill its mission, if there is a clear path forward and cooperation throughout the donation process. This donation could provide the North Texas Health Care System a unique opportunity to expand its footprint and serve up to an additional 184,000 Veteran enrollees.

    With a 3.5 percent annual growth rate, North Texas is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country for Veterans. Yet the reality is that the VA health care system is stretched thin. Even Dallas-Fort Worth community hospitals are operating at full capacity, leaving 40-80 Veterans per day in temporary community care awaiting a bed at a VA facility. The North Texas Health Care System simply must expand to meet this demand.

    We believe the acquisition of the Garland hospital ultimately could save VA and taxpayers money. We recognize there likely will be costs associated with retrofitting the hospital, but we know the cost to build a similar facility is between $800 million and $1 billion. Without a new facility, the ability to care for Veterans in North Texas will present a major challenge in the future.

    We are excited about this opportunity for the North Texas Health Care System. It would help it continue its 79-year history of caring for those who have borne the battle and call North Texas home. As VA evaluates and analyzes the potential donation of the hospital, we pledge to work with you and ask that you keep us informed as decisions are made.

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