Officials, VA spar over opening date for hospital

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AURORA | Despite estimates that Aurora’s Veterans Affairs hospital is $200 million over its current budget and could take longer to build, VA officials say the hospital could still start seeing patients in late 2015.

But veterans and members of Congress are skeptical that the VA will keep its word.

For months, VA officials have said that the hospital project, which is replacing the Denver VA medical center, would be complete in April 2015.

After a closed meeting July 2 in which the hospital’s construction team briefed members of Congress about the status of the project, Coffman said that date might be pushed back to June 2016. That’s unacceptable, he said.

“The Aurora VA hospital is designed to replace the old downtown Denver facility that was deemed inadequate for the veteran population,” Coffman said in an email. “So every day the completion of this hospital is delayed is another day when the care of our veterans is not being met.”

VA officials said the builder, Kiewit-Turner, formerly agreed to complete the project by April 2015, which would allow the first patients to be seen in October 2015. Now, Kiewit-Turner officials say “they believe the conditions of the agreement have changed and they have submitted their proposed revised estimate for cost and duration,” said Washington DC-based VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda in a statement. But that doesn’t mean patients won’t still be seen by October 2015, she said.

“(Kiewit-Turner’s) proposed revised duration contains a later overall completion date but also includes a phased completion and occupancy that could allow the medical center to begin seeing patients as early as October 2015,” Schuda said in her statement. The VA declined to comment further.

But Coffman said there is proof that the potential delay and cost increase isn’t due to the construction portion of the project, but the design plan of the project.

“I don’t have confidence in VA’s statement because they could not respond to an internal VA letter I showed them during the (July 2) meeting that stated the design is the primary source of cost overruns rather than the general contractor,” he said in an email.

In a letter sent to the project’s design team on Jan. 23, VA officials said the current design plans exceed the estimated cost of construction by an estimated $199 million.

Without budget increases, the new VA medical center is estimated to cost about $800 million. It’s unclear what Coffman’s next steps are to continue putting pressure on the VA, but veterans say they aren’t hopeful that the new hospital will be open by the end of 2015.

“I absolutely do not think they will be moving patients into the hospital until first quarter of 2016,” said Bernie Rogoff, chairman of the Aurora Veterans Affairs Commission. “And that’s not even worst-case scenario.”

Construction on the new VA hospital near the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus ramped up in 2012. It was supposed to originally be complete in February 2014 at a cost of $328 million, according to an April U.S. Government Accountability Office report. Aurora’s VA hospital project is the latest in a string of VA projects to face cost increases and a delay. The VA medical centers that have been delayed are in Las Vegas; Orlando, Fla.; Denver; and New Orleans.

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]

The Associated Press contributed to this report.