The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is planning to expand its medical services to veterans in North Texas soon as it anticipates a donated facility in Garland.
The donation of the former Baylor Scott & White Medical Center — Garland has been in the works for a few months. The donation is likely to be finalized before the end of March.
“Baylor Scott & White Health is continuously looking for the best ways to serve our communities, and we are encouraged by the opportunity to repurpose our Garland campus to better help those who have served and currently serve our country,” a statement by Baylor Scott and White expressed.
The 470,000 square foot facility in Garland is valued at about $400 million.
Baylor Scott & White Medical Center — Garland closed on March 1, 2018, due to “significant operational challenges” and an “increasingly difficult financial outlook.”
Last summer, several members of Congress including Reps. Ron Wright (R-TX-06) and Colin Allred (D-TX-32) learned of the opportunity and penned a letter to Secretary Robert Wilkie of the Department of Veterans Affairs urging consideration of the donation by Baylor Scott & White.
“Getting the federal government to expedite a process that didn’t exist and was foreign to the typical acquisition, or donation, process is an exercise in getting all of the right people to the table to eliminate barriers and do what’s best for the veterans,” Jeffrey Clapper, public affairs officer for the VA North Texas Health System said.
“And once our Congressional friends and stakeholders caught wind of the opportunity, they graciously helped take up the cause and ensured things could line up where they needed to.”
Robert John Smith, a Garland city councilman, was also instrumental in the hospital transfer. He was concerned about the economic and health care access ramifications of the hospital closure to the city of Garland.
He sees the VA hospital bringing many economic benefits to the city, including between 1,200 and 3,500 jobs over 10 years.
“It was a strong bi-partisan effort,” Smith said. “I always wanted this to be about veterans and paying back the debt we owe to them.”
About $20 million will be required to get the building ready for move-in and begin patient service in fall 2020. The facility is in need of some roof repairs, boiler plant updates, and modifications, according to Clapper.
The VA North Texas Health Care system has been operating in the south Oak Cliff area of Dallas since 1940, but the history of providing medical care to veterans goes all the way back to the Civil War.
According to Clapper, the North Texas system serves a 40-county area that includes nearly 500,000 veterans, many of whom are eligible for care. Currently, there are 184,000 veterans who receive care through the North Texas system. It has an annual budget of about $960 million.
On any given day, 50-200 veterans are waiting for a bed in the main hospital in south Oak Cliff.
“Simply put, we are a health care system that is running out of space faster than we can lease, build, or acquire solutions,” Clapper told The Texan.
Initially, the Garland facility will serve outpatient and mental health service needs. Other services like GI, audiology, optometry, radiology, prosthetics, pain and a growing telehealth capability will be moved to Garland to free up space at the main hospital in Dallas.
Even though the overall veteran population is expected to decline by about nineteen percent from 2014-2024, the number of veterans using VA health care is increasing. Additionally, Clapper points to the increased demand on the VA North Texas Health Care System because many veterans are choosing to move to Texas after leaving the military due to its mild climate, lower taxes, and higher quality of life.
The Veterans Health Administration is a single-payer system that is owned, run, and financed by the federal government. It was appropriated $80.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2020.
In 2014, the VA came under intense scrutiny for its inability to provide timely access to safe, high-quality health care to veterans after evidence emerged that dozens of veterans had died in Phoenix, Arizona awaiting care. And last year, similar issues cropped up in West Virginia after 10 veterans died, including two deemed ‘homicides.’
According to a Government Accountability Office report issued in 2017, the VA had still had not made significant progress toward showing that veterans were receiving timely care.
The MISSION Act of 2018 led to the implementation of a new Veterans Community Care program that is meant to provide veterans with more health care options at facilities that are approved providers but are not part of the VA Health System. The new changes were implemented in summer 2019 and their goal is to provide more timely health care access to veterans.
Update: This article has been updated to include comments by Robert John Smith, a member of the Garland City Council.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.