- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Turning the Creighton University Medical Center into a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital has surfaced as a new option for replacing Omaha’s aging VA facility.

U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, an Omaha Republican, said the option was one of three discussed Tuesday during a meeting between the Nebraska delegation and the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald. The Omaha hospital serves more than 160,000 veterans in the VA’s Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System. A 2007 study found the current hospital was plagued by problems in its electrical system, heating and cooling systems.

In 2011 the VA unveiled plans for a 1 million-square-foot medical center in Omaha. Congress approved $56 million to start the project planning, and it was tentatively scheduled to open in 2018. But the rest of the federal funding remains mired on a list of construction projects.

“The good news is there are other options,” Terry said Tuesday. “Some that would save them a good third of what it would cost to build a new hospital from the ground up.”

Renovating the Creighton hospital could cost about $250 million, an Omaha engineering firm has said, compared with the $560 million estimated for a new VA facility. Catholic Health Initiatives’ CHI Health announced in August, when it was known as Alegent Creighton Health, that it would close the Creighton hospital, move its inpatient services to Bergan Mercy Medical Center in 2017 and build a $35 million outpatient and emergency services facility in north Omaha.

A second option discussed Tuesday was local financing for the new hospital, which would be leased back to the federal government. It would be built on the grounds of the current hospital.

A third option would involve building a smaller VA hospital and leasing space in other Omaha area hospitals.

McDonald seemed to prefer keeping the VA hospital on the current property, Terry said, but McDonald was willing to have the Creighton renovation idea subjected to a feasibility study. The third option drew little discussion, Terry said.

A VA official or a team from Washington is expected to visit Omaha in the next two months to analyze the options.

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