In 2015, discussions commenced on plans to build a private hospital for military veterans on Guam and Micronesia. The project’s proponent, the Guam Regional Veterans Healthcare Council, has tapped potential investors, including three investment banks, for the extensive undertaking that was estimated to cost $167 million. Touted to be the first private veterans’ hospital in the nation, the project was conceived as a solution to the lack of health care availability in the region. But like the veterans who often find themselves trapped in the bureaucratic abyss, the project is at a standstill.
“In order for us the build the hospital, it requires an act of Congress,” said the council’s chairman Peter Sgro, who spearheaded the development of the Guam Regional Medical City which opened in 2015. “In trying to get a veterans hospital built, I went to Hawaii and then to Washington, D.C. to discuss the project with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs but they never got back to me.”
The proposed facility complex, to be named Guam and Regional Veterans Healthcare Center of Excellence, would include 30 acute-care beds, an outpatient clinic and a behavioral health care center for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Currently, about 164 Guam veterans are being treated for PTSD in Honolulu.
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Under the council’s plan, the setup for the veterans hospital would be patterned after the federal government’s lease arrangement with the developer that built the District Court of Guam facility in Anigua. “Before the district court was built, the Department of Justice put out an RFP for a private company to build a court house according to specifications of DOJ. The selected bidder built it, then the federal government leased the building,” Sgro said.
But prior to the bidding process, Congress had to change the lease requirements for federal facilities by adding specifications designed to beef up security. “It was a very expensive building to build because it has a lot of security features and the construction had almost triple the amount of concrete, especially on the beams,” Sgro said.
A congressional action, Sgro said, is needed to enact a similar law that would allow a private company to build and manage a veterans hospital in exchange for a lease agreement with the federal government. “Our plan also included management of the hospital. The VA has never done this before,” Sgro said. “Nobody in Congress has ever come up with this concept for veterans healthcare.”
The plan was to complete the project within 16 to 18 months after the site selection and architectural and engineering designs were drawn.
“It was not so much for our group to bid on the project; we just want them to create something that would help our
veterans with their healthcare needs. I feel that the quality of care for veterans will significantly increase if it is in the
hands of a private owner and private management group,” Sgro said.
Sgro had initiated discussions with VA officials. However, his trips to Honolulu and Washington D.C. came at a bad time. “When I traveled to Washington D.C., the Obama administration only had about nine months left and some officials at Veterans Affairs were already looking for other positions outside the government,” Sgro said.
Preliminary discussions and initiatives were consequently disrupted by the change in administration.
“Per capita, Guam and the rest of the region have the most veterans and the number continues to increase because retired National Guard members are eligible or would be eligible to use the Naval Hospital, which only has 43 beds,” Sgro said. “With the military buildup, the demand for beds at the Naval Hospital will increase and limit the access for medical care and behavioral care.”
Unless the proposed project takes off, Sgro said veterans in the region will continue to be racked by the “extremely poor” healthcare services provided by the Veterans Affairs Office in Honolulu.