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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Smart spending change will help VA patients, taxpayers

The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital’s main wing — or bed tower — was built in 1971 and is hopelessly antiquated.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is the second worst in the nation in terms of facility deficiencies.

So it is encouraging to see Congress find an economical way to fund a replacement.

Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis is advancing a plan for a new facility that, in an unusual twist, won’t require any additional funding. Assisting in the effort is Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat.

Here’s how: Congress already has appropriated $231.5 million for a three-phase project at Haley: a polytrauma health care center, a new parking garage and the renovation of the main hospital building.

But an analysis showed that savings achieved from the low bids on the polytrauma center and parking garage — the result of a sluggish economy — plus the $89 million allocated for renovating the old bed tower could fund a new bed tower.

In addition, the arrangement of the new bed tower, with 24-bed wards rather than 15-bed wards, would improve nurses’ efficiency and cut operational costs.

Moreover, building a new facility, rather than renovating the existing one, would not disrupt patient care or cause a reduction in beds.

A review found that over 30 years the more efficient facility would save the Department of Veterans Affairs more than $500 million.

Bilirakis says the old bed tower could eventually be converted into much-needed administrative space, and save money that now is spent on leasing office space.

Changing the spending plan to allow the new bed tower will require congressional reauthorization.

But there should be no question about the wisdom of approving this cost-efficient strategy for improving local veterans’ medical care.

Congress too often appears to be a simmering quagmire of insults and intransigence.

But Bilirakis’ and Castor’s work on Haley illustrates how, at least on occasion, some of our representatives team together for sensible, bipartisan solutions.

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