Baylor Scott & White closed its Garland hospital in 2018 after “significant financial losses over the last three years,” but a bipartisan effort is most likely bringing a new VA facility to northeast Dallas County.
Dallas Congressman Colin Allred and Congressman Ron Wright composed a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie earlier this summer, encouraging him to take action to make the former Baylor hospital a VA facility.
The 470,000 square foot hospital would allow the VA to serve 184,000 additional veterans and provide a bed to the 40-80 patients per day in temporary community care while they wait for one, the letter reads. The VA North Texas Health System is the second largest in the country, and Allred says the veteran population is especially strong in northeast Dallas county. A new care site would save them significant driving distance to get to southern Dallas.
Meeting the need of the growing veteran population could be costly, but Allred says the hospital was recently remodeled and will only need a $20 million retrofit. That price tag is a significant savings compared to a new hospital, which could cost between $800 million and $1 billion, Allred says.
This project would be the first time the VA has ever taken on such a project with a donated facility, and dealing with such a unique donation has its own administrative challenges. The next steps are an environmental review of the facility and figuring out how to work with current tenants who are still using parts of the larger facility.
The letter was written this summer, and Allred reports that the project is nearing a green light. “We have had a lot of movement, and there are still a few hurdles to get over, we it is 99 percent of the way there,” Allred says. In the coming months, there should be an official announcements if all goes to plan.
“The work that Dallas VA is doing is tremendous, they just have more need than they can provide,” Allred says.
“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” Baylor Scott & White said via statement. “We hope to complete the donation of the campus to the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System in the first quarter of 2020.”
The growth of the VA North Texas Health Care system has created the need for a new facility. Since 2013, the number of users of the VA in North Texas have risen from 103,000 to 134,000. The number of employees grew from 4,200 to 5,600. At the same time, the North Texas VA has gone from ranked 101st in the country to 37th for VA health systems. The Director of VA North Texas Health Care System Dr. Stephen Holt says that the increased patient load meant that a number of potential patients were being sent to other care providers because the VA was at capacity. He attempted to rent space from another hospital, but it was difficult to find exactly what they needed.
Discussions developed with Baylor, and Holt says Baylor suggested donating the facility, which had been recently remodeled and was in pretty good shape. The BSW Garland hospital was no longer an acute care hospital, though a couple floors were being used for other services. A donation of this kind was very rare, and Holt says it hadn’t been done at the VA for over 50 years.
Clearing the bureaucratic, financial, and logistical hurdles hasn’t been easy, especially because there wasn’t a plan to follow. “It’s like reinventing the wheel from scratch,” he says. “We’re establishing the protocol right in the VA. But we are very fortunate and the region has tremendous community support for its veterans.”
The new facility will allow the VA to redirect $224 million in funds from the community providers, and Holt says he wants to start with 30 to 80 beds in the new facility. The facility will focus on outpatient specialty care such as urology, podiatry, orthopedics, ophthalmology, mental health, physical medicine and rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Holt says the donation and retrofit are serving as a model to other VA systems around the country, and he has been in touch with VA leadership to see if unused or underused facilities might be better utilized with growing VA patient populations, especially in the southern United States. “It’s exciting to be a model for the future with savings at the same time,” he says. “It’s all about the veterans, and we are fortunate that we are earning the community’s trust and getting that support.”