By Sandra Basu
ORLANDO, FL — After four years of construction on a new state-of-the-art VA Orlando Medical Center, lawmakers want to know why the VA and the contractor still cannot agree on a delivery date for the new facility.
“Since January, VA has been telling us that the medical center is 60% complete and on track to open in 2013, even though the contractor has repeatedly stated that construction is not 60% complete nor is VA’s timeline realistic,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, at a hearing on the topic held at University of Central Florida College of Medicine.
Construction began on the new multimillion VA Orlando Medical Center in October 2008, with the opening slated for this month. Now, however, the facility may not be complete until a year from now or even longer.
Construction began on the new multi-million-dollar facility in October 2008, with the opening slated for this month. Now, however, the facility might not be complete until a year from now, or even longer, as VA and the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, blame each other for the delays.
Further frustrating Florida lawmakers is that VA and the contractor continue to provide different timelines for when the project will be finished, even though the project had an extremely long planning period.
“This is a project that is over three decades in the works,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) reminded everyone at the hearing.
“A lot of veterans feel it is taking too much time and, if we have the money, what is the issue?” questioned Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL).
Reason for Delays
Both VA and the contractor testified that the medical center would be a high-quality facility, once completed, but have disagreed for some time on when the project would be completed.Construction of New Orlando VAMC Still Bogged Down; Legislators Call for Action
Glenn Haggstrom, principal executive director for the VA Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, told the committee that VA believes that it is “achievable” for the contractor to complete work on the facility by next summer (2013) without additional resources, based on an analysis of the remaining work. He told the committee that the project would not exceed its $616 million budget.
Jim Gorrie, president and chief executive officer of Birmingham, AL-based Brasfield & Gorrie, however, said construction is only about 45% complete. He testified that the contractor views late 2013 as the earliest possible completion date but meeting that deadline would come at “a higher premium.”
“For months, the VA has mentioned completion dates in the summer of 2013, but to date they have not been willing to disclose the detailed logic they are using to reach that conclusion,” Gorrie said in written testimony.
Haggstrom called it “progress” that the contractor now says it can complete the work by the end of 2013, because earlierestimates mentioned 2014 or 2015 as a completion date. He said VA is hopeful they will be able to move completion of the medical center “to the left” on the timeline.
“We firmly believe that the summer of 2013 is achievable,” Haggstrom told the committee.
Snags Along the Way
Once finished, the new 1.2 million-square-foot facility is expected to contain 134 inpatient beds, a 120-bed community living center and a 60-bed domiciliary. In addition, the center will provide a range of outpatient services for veterans.While everyone agrees on the need for the facility, its construction has hit numerous snags along the way. In March, VA acknowledged to the committee that design errors and omissions on its part, as well as changes in medical equipment, were among the problems that had led to construction delays.
Then, in June, the VA issued a contract-cure notice to Brasfield & Gorrie and threatened to terminate the contractor for default. VA accused Brasfield and Gorrie of not “diligently pursuing the work” in some cases and not having a sufficient workforce on the project.
Gorrie told the committee that VA keeps providing design changes, which contractors call the “design blitz,” and that slows progress down.
“Unfortunately, the blitz has grown to include over 100 separate design corrections and lasted significantly longer than the VA planned,” he said. “We are seeing signs that the changes are slowing down, but just last week we received another significant revision to the operating rooms, and we have been notified that additional changes are coming for additional structure to support the new medical equipment.”
VA representatives testified that such changes were not abnormal, but Gorrie said the changes were “the furthest thing from normal” the company had ever experienced.
Lawmakers at the hearing urged the contractor and VA to work through the issues.
“Keep in mind that the veterans here have waited 25 years to get this hospital. So whatever we are talking about the details, we need to expedite it,” said Brown, who added she didn’t want there to have to be another hearing on the same subject.
Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) told the VA officials that veterans were “counting on them to get this done.” She wanted to know when veterans should expect the facility to open.
“We need you to have a real discussion with the contractors and then make an announcement based on all of the facts,” she said.
Back to October Articles
Legislation that would streamline VA’s community care programs into one program and expand VA’s caregiver program to veterans of all eras was signed into law earlier this month..
The good news from a recent consultant study is that, overall, the VA healthcare system is generally equal or better than others when inpatient and outpatient quality is measured.