Opponents of Brownsboro Location for New VA Hospital Going All-In.

p.s. It’s not about the neighbors or the disputed $3.1 million!

The Courier-Journal has long advocated for a downtown location for the replacement Mobley Rex VA Medical Center. The newspaper’s leadership and a variety of downtown-boosters are obviously disappointed with the result of a long-studied and reasonable determination not to place the hospital downtown, but rather on a site near the intersection of the Watterson Expressway and Brownsboro Road. A series of articles and an editorial earlier this month focused on the appraisal process used for the Brownsboro parcel purchased by the VA in July, 2012 for $12.9 million. The newspaper seems to insinuate that hanky-panky has occurred and that a cover-up is underway. Rep. Yarmouth has joined the fray asking for a governmental examination of the appraisal and purchase process. That is a fair request, especially since the reputation of some individuals has been questioned in unavoidable service to the interests of others, some of whom also wish to profit from a downtown location. Be well advised, that this controversy is no longer about the interests of the neighbors of the Brownsboro site who would have seen a major new commercial project there in any event.

Possible overpayment does not invalidate site-selection process.
I have been involved with or reporting on the site-selection process for the new VA since its inception. I believe my reports have been the most comprehensive available on the matter. Many of the public documents are available in these pages. I believe I have attended every public hearing and some non-public ones as well. The Courier-Journal and allied downtown-boosters are conflating the site-appraisal process with the site-selection process in a last ditch effort to pressure the federal government to relocate the hospital in downtown Louisville. The two processes are separate and very different things. Any inadvertent overpayment by the Federal Government for the land invalidates in no way the tediously careful process of site selection that went on.

Who is it really who wants a downtown site?
It is possible to take issue with or rebut the several one-sided arguments in the recent Courier-Journal editorial. I will try to resist over-commenting. Yes the traffic at the intersection can be heavy at rush hours, but it is much better than it was before the Brownsboro intersection was reconfigured and the Westport Road exchange opened. Is the Courier-Journal suggesting that downtown traffic is better or will get so in our lifetimes? We are currently hearing potential plans about two-way traffic and other changes to major thoroughfares to actually slow down city traffic for the benefit of local businesses and residents!

Preferred by whom?
The paper’s claim that the downtown location was the initial “preferred” site is correct, except that the entity doing the most preferring was the University of Louisville which was salivating over the prospect of another captive group of patients for its commercial research, real estate, and clinical ventures. A downtown site was also preferred by those looking to fuel the tax increment districts supporting a variety of business and public interests including the Yum Arena. A downtown location was overwhelmingly: I repeat, overwhelmingly opposed by veterans themselves. I invite readers to review my detailed accounts of the public hearings for a catalog of the reasons why. Notice also that an urban location for the new hospital has never to my knowledge included a West Louisville site where the jobs and business spin-offs are badly needed. I wonder why?

Why is downtown so much better?
The proposed downtown site has problems of its own including the fact that it sits on a floodplain and that the process of displacing current owners, including expulsion through eminent domain, would be expensive, divisive, and time-consuming. It would cost more and take longer to build there.  I would like to hear the Courier-Journal give specific reasons why downtown is “a far superior location.” From my perspective, the UofL self-designated academic medical center is mired in secrecy, confusion, and competitive turmoil, with both patients and doctors voting with their feet. Concern over its very viability in its existing configuration can reasonably be expressed. Some of its operations are already moving to Louisville’s East End. Is it really fair to use our veterans to prop up what is in my opinion a poorly envisioned and implemented public-private partnership, particularly one whose operations are based on a given set of religious dogma? I don’t think so. Let the VA be master of its own future.

How much was too much?
In terms of the $12.9 million paid for the 36 Brownsboro acres, I must admit to being jealous of this approximate 12% annual return on investment. I hope the Courier-Journal will be equally aggressive in reporting on other individuals or entities that are able to invest that well or are that lucky. I want to know how they do it and tag along behind.

The dogs of war have been loosed.
Apparently Representative Mike Coffmann, Republican Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has asked the Veterans Administration for ““all emails, faxes, letters, phone logs, and any other correspondence between the VA and any business associated with Jonathan S. Blue … and between the VA and Galloway Appraisal from January 2010 to present.” Fair enough. I would also ask for all such correspondence for the last 10 years between agents of the University of Louisville, the VA, and Kentucky’s elected city and federal officials with respect to the location of the new VA hospital. If pressure is being applied, we have a right to evaluate its appropriateness.

Representative Yarmouth and Senator McConnell, as your constituent and in fairness, would you please release all your correspondence from UofL asking for your involvement in locating the new VA? I will be pleased on behalf of our public to collate and make it available to all. If you are comfortable with the Veterans Administration’s decision to place the hospital at the Brownsboro site, I withdraw my request.

Did Jewish Hospital “way overpay” for its land?
It appears that a critical issue in determining the value of the Brownsboro land was that in 2011, Jewish Hospital paid $15.9 million for a 37-acre parcel of land adjacent to its Jewish Hospital Northeast Medical Center.  That land also abuts the Old Henry-area property that was the runner-up site for the VA relocation! Could it be that Jewish Hospital and its new owners were hoping for an adjacent new VA?  I would not call that a “silly” investment or its sale price “irrelevant” to the value of the Brownsboro property as the Courier Journal articles report.  Jewish and KentuckyOne are currently holding fallow (?investing in) several other large and expensive plots. Certainly other hospitals in Louisville are eager to bid on providing services such as advanced cardiology not available in the VA Hospital itself. Being a vendor of such services is one of the major driving factors behind the unrelenting efforts to relocate our VA Hospital downtown. There are many excellent hospitals, facilities, and doctors in Louisville on which the VA can rely and they are by all means not all downtown.

Stop the rear-guard actions.
The Courier may not be aware that one of the under-emphasized reasons the Brownsboro site was selected over the Old Henry site was as a concession to UofL to provide proximity for its trainees and teachers comparable to what it has enjoyed in previous years (with better parking to boot). I was told by a principal actor in this ongoing production to keep the relocation process alive, that he wanted to create an opening for University President Ramsey to press for the University’s preferred location again. He has been doing a good job. So far, any possible continuing efforts by UofL to leverage the intervention of our elected officials on its behalf would have occurred in the background. I fully agree that UofL has a right to advocate for its interests, but also to act as good-faith partner to the VA. If UofL wishes to subvert the ongoing process, do so openly. Transparency and accountability seem often to be difficult positions for the University Medical Center to adopt, but I suggest that doing so is in its best interest, in the best interest of our community, and certainly in the best interests of our Veterans. They are fodder for neither war nor someone else’s economic development.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
President, KHPI
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
March 10, 2014