Federal officials have brought up new cost concerns about a Colorado VA medical center that is already more than $1 billion overbudget and significantly behind schedule
Andrew Von Ah, director of the physical infrastructure team at the Government Accountability Office, expressed concern about the budget set aside for furniture and medical devices at the Aurora, Colorado, hospital in his testimony (PDF) on Wednesday before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs had estimated that it would cost $341 million to furnish the hospital and purchase needed devices, but Von Ah said that the agency did not "meet best practicies" when developing the estimate. However, he said that the VA has taken steps to address the issue.
"While we cannot find that the current estimate meets or substantially meets all of the characteristics of a reliable estimate, VA has made improvements in the documentation of the estimate since our report," Von Ah said.
The Aurora hospital has faced criticism since it was revealed in 2015 that the project was more than $1 billion over budget and years behind schedule. An internal document obtained by The Denver Post revealed that though the VA is expected to announce next week that construction on the hospital is complete, its staff will spend several months finishing hundreds of items.
Chairman @DrPhilRoe conducted oversight at the Denver replacement VA medical center this past week to check on the facility’s progress. He will discuss his findings at a full committee hearing on the Denver VA tomorrow morning: https://t.co/Sc1hhsgvNc pic.twitter.com/HikLe4fypp— HouseVetAffairs (@HouseVetAffairs) January 16, 2018
When the hospital opens in August, it will likely be understaffed, according to the article. Plus, the VA will need to continue operating the old Denver medical center for at least three years, as a planned post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) building in Aurora was scrapped to cut costs. The old Denver facility will also house seven primary care teams that don't have space in the new hospital, according to the article.
At the hearing, Stella Fiotes, acting principal executive director of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, testified (PDF) that the budget is still on track for the $341 million estimate. The VA is also looking into ways to offer PTSD care at the new hospital, she said.
Despite challenges posed by the project, "VA remains committed to ensuring the project provides a facility where Veterans will receive convenient 21st Century healthcare in a manner where the department, Congress, veterans service organizations and local stakeholders work together for the benefit of our nation’s veterans," Fiotes said.
Committee chairman Phil Roe, M.D., R-Tenn., said that lawmakers would "keep a close eye" on the costs of the facilitiy. Roe and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who represents Aurora, toured the facility last week, and he said that though it is state of the art, the problems that have plagued the project are hard to ignore.
"The road to completing this hospital has been extremely long and bumpy," Roe said. "This situation must never happen again."
A video of the full hearing is embedded below: