Let My Veterans Go!

Downtown boosters still hoping to derail the VA’s decision for a suburban site.

Yet another hearing is scheduled for tonight to discuss the site favored by the Veterans Administration on which to build a brand new hospital for the veterans of the region. The location is 7.5 miles from University of Louisville Hospital at the junction of the Watterson Expressway and Route 42. The land was until recently used for farming and is undeveloped. It is surrounded on one side by the Expressway, on another by commercial development, and on two sides by residential neighborhoods. A new slip exit from the Watterson will enter the site directly from the west, but to enter from the I-71 side or to depart the site will require entering the already busy intersection of Rt. 42 and the Watterson interchange in some way. Although the final real estate sale preparations and other plans are well along, opposition still exists, as evidenced by an editorial in today’s Courier-Journal, and expected opposition tonight at a public forum.  I will try to report on the meeting tomorrow.

I can understand the opposition of some of the neighbors. It is a classic not-in-my-backyard issue for them. I do not blame them; I would probably feel that way myself. They were there first. They justifiably worry about traffic, perhaps about an ugly building, but hopefully not because of the presence of the veterans and their families in their neighborhood.  Making sure that the consequences of increased traffic are adequately addressed is a reasonable thing to demand. On the other hand, some commercial development is going there in any event. The need for long-range traffic planning is a given whether there is a hospital there or not. I and the majority of the veterans themselves believe that the consequences for traffic are even more substantial at the downtown location that the newspaper and the University prefer. However, even the Courier Journal does not believe that traffic congestion is the main issue.

The Courier-Journal goes on to claim that “the downtown site had been favored by everyone.” Everyone that is except every non-University veteran I heard speak in three earlier public hearings over several years. Perhaps the downtown boosters hope they have worn the veterans down. [I doubt it, given the new round of letters to the editor that are appearing again.] “Veterans continued to complain [about a downtown location] and their voices were heard.” What is the matter with that? Should medical entrepreneurial voices be heard as louder because they have more political clout?

The paper goes on to criticize the fact that the government actually listened to its citizen veterans and for this egregious behavior that any “blame should be directed toward the VA and the Obama administration.” (So much for the frequent rants against out local representative of the “liberal media!”)

The Courier-Journal believes the Veterans Administration “is about to make a disastrous decision for this community without much outcry” and that to be “silent is a disgrace.” I agree! I and virtually every veteran I have heard have been making as much noise as we can. It is equally a disgrace to be bullied by parties who are more concerned with their own financial interests.

I have written about this issue in these pages for over a year: February, 2011, and in December, 2011. Read my arguments and decide for yourself or make your own points. In my opinion, this debate is all about the University of Louisville, its University Hospital, its favored partner hospitals, and the downtown commercial research initiative’s desire to control yet another captive population of patients and funding. This is demonstrably not about being able to provide better care for our Veterans. The downtown medical center is presently in chaos. Their first responsibility should be to fix what they already have.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
April 18, 2012