VA scandal: Amid budget woes, facilities spent $6.3M on art installations

Amid continual news of slow progress in reforming the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), critics are now scrutinizing the department's spending on artwork on hospital campuses, The Washington Post reports.

For example, VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California spent more than $6 million on art and consulting services, including $4.2 million at Palo Alto Medical Center and $1.9 million at Monterey Health Care Center, according to the article. Artwork at new federal buildings is the purview of the General Services Administration's Art in Architecture Program, and the controversy over such spending is relatively recent. In 2013, Congress took legislative action in response to reports that the program spent more than $200,000 on oil paintings of lawmakers and agency heads.

The amount of money the VA has spent on art projects adds fuel to the fire about VA spending and cost overruns.  A series of reports from the Army Corps of Engineers found the planned VA facility in Denver was more than $500 million over budget, and will eventually carry a price tag in excess of $1.7 billion, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Leading critics such as Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the art installations, such as a $483,000 rock sculpture at Palo Alto's mental health center and a $285,000 light-up installation that displays Abraham Lincoln quotes in Morse code, contradict the department's assertions of budgetary difficulties.  

"It is simply beyond me why VA would choose to pay to complete the Denver project by cutting medical services and medical facility dollars but not the exorbitant conference spending or bloated relocation expenses or art," Miller said, according to the article.

Despite the criticism, much has been made of art and creative design's value to the care process, with hospitals such as Pennsylvania's Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital heavily incorporating art into both design and care delivery. Evidence is also mounting that good design can reduce length of stay and reduce infection rates.

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