Spirited Public Hearing on Brownsboro Road Site for New VA Hospital.

This evening, April 18, the VA Hospital Site Selection staff held a public hearing at Kammerer middle school to update the selection process, and to hear comments from interested citizens. It was an interesting affair to say the least.

The session was held in the school’s gymnasium and was heavily attended. The crowd was in a rare, if not hostile mood. The presentation included at least as much of the usual bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and procedure that frustrated people. It did not help that things started very badly from a technical perspective. The VA team’s own wireless microphone had failed, and the school’s public address system produced only unintelligible sound. Things eventually got a little better and extra time was allowed for questions in this 2 1/2 hour session.

I rather expected that the room would be packed with current veterans, but this did not appear to be the case, and only a few spoke. Of course, all who made comments made reference to their own veteran status or that of their family members. Most of us can point to the veterans in our family and we all certainly want our veterans to have access to the quality health care they deserve. With those preliminaries out of the way, the 800-pound gorilla in the room was concern about the impact of increased traffic in an intersection that is already acknowledged as overloaded. There were concerns that the studies by consultants that concluded that any increased traffic could be mitigated and managed may have been based on faulty car-counts. It was easy to make the case that traffic is bad there, and there was no offsetting discussion about how things might be improved.  There was an obvious disparity between what various studies and projections said about the traffic situation and the experience on the ground by the residents.

Other concerns that were raised about locating the hospital at the Brownsboro Road site included privacy concerns for the neighbors, light pollution from tall towers, safety issues for the many school buses servicing the six schools in the area, the fact that the 35 acres available seemed pitifully small for such a facility compared to the size of sites used for other recent VA hospital construction, flooding and drainage issues, lack of any room for expansion, the threat of taking by eminent domain for future growth, the fact there is only a single access point for the landlocked plot, and air pollution from the many idling cars and ambulances.

Quite a few rational comments were made regarding the superiority of the St. Joseph site on Factory Lane, largely because of its much larger 99-acre size. Room for hospital growth and for the addition of other related Veterans Administration facilities would be available. One speaker suggested building the hospital on existing government-owned land currently occupied by the Army Reserve on Dutchman’s Lane. There are, however, apparently only three alternatives still in the running: a downtown location is not one of them. The alternatives are the Brownsboro Road site, the St. Joseph site, and an option to take no action at all.

There was still a bit of wishful thinking about staying at Zorn Avenue. Concern was expressed by at least two leaders of statewide veterans organizations that we have already had enough delay, and that we were at risk for losing federal support for the entire project unless we get on with it. There were a handful of speakers advocating for a downtown location. I did not admire the motives of all of these. One relatively young veteran who worked downtown and looked forward to quick trips to the hospital after lunch commented that the older generations “have had their time,” and that any new hospital should meet the needs, including the convenience, of the new generation. There was concern about how veterans who do not drive or who might be disabled mentally or physically would get to the hospital. It was mentioned only in passing that this hospital serves a huge area of southern Indiana and Kentucky. It was not made clear how convenience to downtown Louisville measures against convenience for out-of-towners who rarely go to the big city!

Not surprisingly and perhaps predictably there was some antipathy expressed towards the current owners and developers of the Brownsboro land. One commenter wanted to know why, if this was a non-political decision, that the developer had “Washington lobbyists?” People wanted to know who financed the traffic studies. People wanted to know if some sort of land swap for the current valuable Zorn Avenue Veterans Hospital was part of the arrangement. Neither was the crowd in the mood to hear opinions from those who were not opposed to the Brownsboro site. One resident who said that he would prefer a hospital there instead of the inevitable shopping center was booed lightly by his neighbors.

The evening ended as badly as it began. The session was never designed to provide answers to any specific questions. In fact, there was downright hostility that promised responses to questions and concerns voiced at an earlier session were not made as promised, and that by the time responses to today’s session became available, the land would have already been purchased and the die cast. There was a bit of Alice in Wonderland logic to it all. Nonetheless, I had a good bit of respect for the VA team who kept their professional demeanor throughout in the face of repeated outbursts from the audience. Surely at least one thought for their personal safety must have flashed across their minds. They deserve a stiff martini tonight at Louisville’s best hotel for their effort (at the discounted government rate of course).

In my thinking, this is as difficult a decision as a community gets to make. I do not think there is any one correct solution, only trade-offs. When I think of how long and difficult this VA project has been, and of how long the Ohio River bridge project has been stalled by division, I despair that we will lack the will as a community to address the issue of medical care for our disadvantaged that has dominated these pages the last months. I need a sign that will make me into more of an optimist!

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
April 18, 2012

Handout used at hearing.
Slides used at hearing. (One St. Joe. slide missed.) 2.6 MB
Programatic Environmental Assessment. (PEA) and Appendices. (VA Website)
Programatic Environmental Assessment (KHPI Website) 2.3 MB

KHPI Background Comments on VA site selection:
Feb 18, 2011,  Dec 14, 2011, and Apr 18, 2012

10 thoughts on “Spirited Public Hearing on Brownsboro Road Site for New VA Hospital.”

  1. Since the last post in June 2012, what has happened on this topic? Perhaps comments from the VA or local authorities could be kept up with here. I know we’ve gotten several emails on the subject. Thanks.

  2. On June 28, 2012, Chris Otts of the Courier-Journal reported that the Veterans Administration has “officially” chosen the Brownsboro Rd. site for the new hospital. The land has not yet been purchased, but I must assume the pricing arrangements have been negotiated. It has been a long road to get here. I was still working as a UofL lobbyist in the early 1990s when the maneuvering to bring the hospital downtown was already well under way. I am sympathetic with the folks who live near the new site who would have preferred another tenant, but I believe the location will be better for the vets than the downtown location they opposed so strongly. The bigger disappointment will be felt by the University of Louisville which came to take the captive Veterans Hospital population for granted. I am in hopes that the best physicians and health care professionals in the area will now compete to take care of these important people.

  3. The Courier-Journal reported yesterday that the VA Administration will take a further look at the traffic situation at the Brownsboro Rd. proposed site. Few additional details or commitments were made or available.

  4. I appreciate all the comments. These are the most I have ever gotten on an issue and speaks to the interest in the community.

    There are still some who would like to see the VA change its mind about excluding a downtown location. Fair enough, but I am less swayed by the argument that a downtown site allows access to better experts. There are certainly some medical experts downtown, but there are doctors equally good and often better all over the city. They would be insulted by the contention that all that is good is downtown. What is more to the point is who would actually be in the building tending to the Vets. There is the rub. Our VA hospital has a closed medical staff: essentially a monopoly for University physicians. These faculty have historically loved the VA salaries and benefits, but resist putting in the time for which they are paid. (They can make more in their private offices and laboratories.) Additionally, since an unrestricted Kentucky medical license is not necessary to practice in the VA, the University likes to place physicians there who do not qualify for a regular medical license. Interns and residents often like the VA because the supervision is less there. Not all senior physicians attend at the VA It. Just being downtown does not automatically give a veteran better access to downtown physicians. (Physicians from Norton and Jewish do not attend at the VA.) I am told that one of the reasons that the VA Administration ruled against the downtown site as preferred was because of problems dealing with the University and its doctors. This report is as yet unconfirmed, but is in keeping with my long experience working in VA hospitals.

    More to the point, would having a VA downtown increase the likelihood that Veterans would actually see experienced physicians more often? If the experience in Lexington is any guide, the answer is no. Even when the VA hospital was right next door to the medical center, the scandal of faculty physicians not putting in their time made the national news. Maybe things are better now, but at least one clinical department refused to see any VA patients at all rather than follow the rules and earning their pay. I have seen the same thing happen at University Hospital when one clinical department opted not to bill for services to Medicare patients so they would not have to follow Medicare’s guidelines to actually see the patients! This kind of stuff was in the news too.

    I think the privilege of serving our veterans has to be earned. They are not fodder for economic development or guinea pigs for commercial research. If University Hospital had the highest marks for quality in Louisville instead of the lowest, perhaps a better claim could be made, but that is not the case. The downtown medical center is in a state of chaos. What I would like to see is the medical community of Louisville have to compete on quality and cost to provide services to Veterans. That is more likely to happen in the non-downtown site that veterans strongly prefer.

  5. The VA Hospital needs to be downtown next the the Medical Center for the health of the veterans.The U of L Hospital provides the doctors for the VA hospital, they need to be close to the hospital…….

  6. I was at the meeting and am one opposed to the idea of having this hospital any where but downtown. There the Vets would have access to all of the best specialist in the city of Louisville. When the specialist see how much time they will have to spend to get to the new site they will have a lot less interest in going to the new hospital.
    Some Vets about their need to get good care. This is true they do need good care but good care is not determined by the site on which the hospital is built on but the care that the staff provides.
    Getting on the site will not be too much of a problem for those traveling east on the Watterson, but it will be a problem getting out of the site.
    There is no slip ramp off of the site and no easy way off of the site for anyone using Brownsboro Road. This means that Crossgate and Graymore Devondale will have highly increased traffic loads that these streets are not built for.
    Even the traffic esxperts agreed that the Brownsboro intersection would have to be reviised. They probably will be able to do this costing many millions of tax payers dollarts and probably with the same speed with which the Westport Road intersection was planned and implimented!!
    Just because this is a “green infill” site doesn’t mean that it has to be a place to build facilities with lots of traffic to leave a huge carbon footprint there. But that is government thinking for you!I
    I predict that in less than 5 years after the new hospital is opened that the Vets will want to know who had this brillant to put the hospital at the Midlands.

  7. I attended the meeting , I thought it was a farce. As I stood in
    the rear of the meeting, I kept hearing, people say , it is a done deal,
    even people from the VA hospital were saying it is a done deal.
    Obviously the veterans do not have a say, it is their hospital, why
    can it be at the place they want.
    How can they go from a 45 acre tract to a much smaller tract of land.
    Are they not thinking of the future expansion.
    I am under the impression, we are wasting our time.

  8. Hi Dr. Hasselbacher,

    You wrote a very objective review of last night’s events. I wish that everyone could read this so that they can see that this is more of a problem than the general public thinks it is.

    I am the woman who spoke near the very end whose husband is the “tall, bald guy.” I am a military wife of 20 years, a neighbor, and a tax payer. We have been trying to get a straight answer on this proposal from the VA, and nobody will answer us. We get platitudes and maybes and “we’ll see what we can do…” Meanwhile, they are not listening to our concerns. The Veterans are not going to get the facility that they deserve, and the taxpayers are going to be out nearly a billion dollars for a facility that we have been told “should last 50 years.”

    This whole thing has been a comedy of errors. None of our politicians will touch this with a 10 foot pole because they don’t want to be seen as “not supporting the Vets.” The neighbors who try to point out the obvious are demonized as rich east end Vet haters, and the only one who will win in this situation is the developer, who shows up with an entourage of PR folks and lawyers.

    It disgusts me.

    Thank you again for your article.

  9. I really appreciated your comments and perspective on last nights VA hearing. You should submit your letter as an “editorial” to the Courier Journal. Thanks again, Kara

  10. Great story – just two minor corrections: the meeting was at Kammerer MS and the property is 36 acres minus one acre for the slip ramp for a total of 35 acres. Supposedly there will be an additional 100 foot easement where the property borders the neighborhood of Crossgate on two sides plus a private office building. Your story was the best and most interesting coverage I have seen. Since Alan and I were at the meeting we watched WAVE and WHAS, their coverage centered on Dakota Murphy who recently received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Chris Ott’s story in The C-J did not get enough space to really tell the whole story. The real story is that our vets need a 21st Century hospital for their 21st Century needs. This is true for all vets, not just the vets coming back from the Middle East. The Veterans Administration is being very short sighted in trying to meet the needs of the vets on a very small 35 acre site. This complex will be a concrete jungle!

    Reply: Thank you Ms. Roles. I was up late last night! I made the corrections you noted. P.H.

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