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“Hurricane-proof” veterans hospital projected to open in 2016

(renderings provided by VA)
The new “hurricane-proof” Veterans Affairs hospital will have the capacity to safely house patients and staff off the grid for five to seven days, and is projected to open in 2016, officials told the New Orleans City Council on Wednesday.

The hospital design is intended to be complimentary to the University Medical Center being built across the street, said Julie Catellier, medical center director for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. The Dixie Brewery building will be rehabilitated to house research operations, and the complex will include four historic homes facing South Galvez Street that will be restored and used for rehabilitative centers for veterans, Catellier said Wednesday afternoon in an appearance before the council’s Health, Education and Social Services Committee.

The $995 million facility was designed with emergency preparedness in mind, said Liv Failla, project engineer and coordinator.

“Because we’re starting from scratch, we don’t have to compensate for the built-in issues from an older building,” Failla said.

Utilities will be located on the fourth floor, for example, a lesson she said the VA learned the hard way in the flooding after Hurricane Katrina. Likewise, the fourth floor will have a corridor connecting the buildings for patient transport within the complex that will also be safely above ground during emergencies.

“Nothing that is mission critical is on the first level,” Failla said in an interview prior to Wednesday’s committee meeting.

All patient rooms are private, with lifts, bathrooms, safes and even a sofa-bed so a visitor can comfortably spend the night, Failla said. The New Orleans hospital will be a “level three” facility capable of cardiac surgery, while some other VA hospitals in the region are better set up for long-term care.

The facility will serve veterans not only in Louisiana, but also from around the Gulf Coast for acute care. While the facility’s primary mission is to serve veterans, Failla said the VA opens its doors to civilians in times of disaster.

More than 4,000 of the 5,000 pilings have now been put in place at the site, said Mark Brideweser, project executive for VA Office of Construction and Facilities Management. Neighbors can expect to see steel going up in the next few weeks, he said.

Administrative offices located in the Pan American building will hopefully be open at the end of 2013, Failla said. VA officials are holding community meetings to hear from both veterans and neighbors about the project, and the next town hall meeting is April 16.

The development has not come without controversy, as many homes were moved from the site and residents relocated, acknowledged City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.

“I think you’re doing even better than the city is doing at this time with the properties we’ve had to move,” Cantrell told the hospital officials.

Cantrell said she is impressed with job creation at the site and the “phenomenal” partnerships the VA has built with other organizations during the process. City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said she was happy to hear the update, as she knew many people had been anxious to hear about the sites progress.

(VA officials contacted MidCity Messenger with updated information regarding town hall meetings, the next meeting will be April 16, not in February as the article originally stated)

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