VA Hospital officials to vets: Help is on the way


The administrator of the new billion-dollar VA hospital confirmed that the first patient will be seen at the end of next year. The media on Wednesday got a sneak peak of the facility, which is nearly complete.

"Right now it's 85 percent complete, and our goal is to see the first patient by the end of 2016," said hospital Director Fernando Rivera.

The 1.6 million-square-foot hospital is two years behind schedule, but officials promise it will be worth the wait.

"First and foremost we want to provide top care to the 41,000 users of our medical system," Rivera said.

Hospital officials are determined to avoid some of the pitfalls that have brought criticism to VA care across the country. 

"We want to have the most talented health-care professionals delivering the highest quality care to our veterans," Rivera said.

The “help wanted” sign is out for nearly 2,800 workers, including 232 physicians and 546 nurses.

"Finding the right people at the right time, that is the most challenging part of the equation over next 18 months," Rivera said.

VA officials say the hospital was designed with veterans in mind. The 200 rooms are light and airy, and veterans were involved in every phase of the project.

"They put a restroom by every door, coffee pots, and a real person you could ask for directions," veteran Larry Jones said.

"The concept they had before is not what it was designed to do in the future," American Legion State Director Lester Cromwell said.

Medical research is being blended into historic preservation.

"We are remodeling the old Dixie Beer brewery and wrapping around it a research facility," Rivera said.

But the iconic Dixie Beer sign on the old brewery is a relic of the past.

"At this time, the sign is not going back up, we are not proprietors of the brand or the signage," Rivera said.

The new hospital will care for about 70,000 veterans, who will make a half-million visits in the first year.

"Our mission is unique. We take care of those men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom," Rivera said.

And this Veterans Day, officials want to make it clear that help is on the way.

VA officials say the research mission of the New Orleans VA hospital will once again be a focus for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Prior to the storm, they point out that Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher Andrew Schally was a mainstay, and they hope to once again capitalize on his legacy.

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