Maneuvering for a New VA Hospital Site in Louisville Continues.

Resistance up to the last minute!

The Courier-Journal’s lead front-page article today continues to report on the “VA Hospital Site Controversy” with a headline ” Older Vets had More Say In Survey” and that some younger ones argue their voices aren’t being heard. Fair enough.

The survey being referred to was professionally conducted in 2009 by the VA as part of their decision-making process about if and where to replace the current VA Hospital on Zorn Avenue in Louisville. It is pointed our for us that three quarters of those polled served in the military before 1990 and that most of those were Vietnam veterans. Should this be a surprise? Aren’t most of the 21.8 million Veterans older by definition? It is said that some younger veterans are criticizing the VA for not taking their views into account before deciding on the new site off Brownsboro Rd. at the Watterson Expressway.

Only two younger veterans are mentioned in the article. Both spoke out at the public hearing on April 18.  Their criticism appears to have been the stimulus for the article.  One of the men lives adjacent to the favored Brownsboro Rd. site. [It is hard to imagine a more convenient hospital site for that particular soldier!]  Two soldiers or veterans do not in my mind a groundswell make.

Much is made of a study that has largely been rendered moot by the VA’s reasonable decision not to rebuild on the current site. Those polled were given only three choices: rebuild on the present Zorn Av. site; build a full-service hospital downtown; or build an inpatient hospital downtown and keep outpatient services at Zorn Ave. The veterans were not given an opportunity to choose between a downtown site and a site other than Zorn Ave. The majority of both older and younger vets indicated a preference to stay at Zorn Ave: 67.6% vs 50.4% That is a meaningful but not overwhelming difference. Of the smaller numbers of veterans polled who served from the 1990s on (136 of 537) almost one half preferred building either a full-service or inpatient hospital downtown. It is not known what the result would have been if veterans who actually use the hospital were given a choice between downtown and the Brownsboro Rd. location. The VA is distributing its outpatient services all over the area in any event.

It cannot be said that younger veterans did not have a chance to offer their opinions. I attended three major public hearings on the issue. Hundreds of vets appeared. Of the handful who spoke for a downtown location, most or all had some connection to UofL, even attending the meeting as part of the UofL party. Perhaps it can be argued that younger vets were still serving, or otherwise unable to get off work. Every opportunity was made available to submit input in writing or by other means.

On the other hand, it is pointed out in the article that younger vets will all too soon become older vets and likely to have a change in heart when their time of need comes. An older veteran interviewed restated the overwhelming objection of his peers to a downtown location and their preference for a campus of their own. There is no question that he is being accurate.

The Editorial Board of the C-J continues to push hard for a downtown location of any new VA hospital. I assume, and will give the newspaper credit for separation of reporting and opinion. I admire their loyalty towards downtown development, but I disagree that our veterans can only be well served there. I know that the University of Louisville would desperately appreciate another captive group of patients, but in my opinion it badly needs to get its own house in order. I think I have fairly used the term “chaos” to characterize my opinion of the state of our academic medical center. Brownsboro Rd. is not much farther than Zorn Avenue from downtown. The University will continue to have an opportunity to serve our veterans there, but I believe it is high time that any and all high quality hospitals and physicians in Louisville also have that opportunity. The Brownsboro Rd. site or a similar location will facilitate that goal.

Click on the “Veterans Hospital” link just below for my more extended comments on this issue.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
May 21, 2012