Federal VA task force hires study consultant

PricewaterhouseCoopers will work with members of a federally appointed Advisory Commission on a study of veterans services at the local VA and others.

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A globally known company has started looking at Walla Walla's veterans hospital as part of a consulting contract with the U.S.

Department of Veterans Affairs.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is expected to complete a study of the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center, along with 17 other veterans facilities across the country, according to the national VA.

It will work with members of a federally appointed Advisory Commission on the project.

The company was hired last week as part of a plan to examine veterans services and facilities in certain communities, including Walla Walla.

Outgoing VA Secretary Anthony Principi awarded the $9.6 million contract last week _ roughly eight months after he determined an in-depth study of Walla Walla's veterans hospital was needed.

Walla Walla's VA medical center had been slated for a mission change last year under a recommendation from the secretary-appointed Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services Commission.

The goal of the commission was to examine the VA's nationwide health-care system and recommend ways to become more efficient.

To do that, it recommended contracting out Walla Walla's inpatient medicine, psychiatric and nursing home care, and moving outpatient services to an unspecified location.

But outcry from the community, along with support from the state's congressional delegation, prompted further study.

Principi's decision last May called for a national consultant to work on the studies. The consulting firm would operate in conjunction with Federal Advisory Commissions appointed for the facilities.

Originally the studies were to be completed by the end of 2004. But members of Walla Walla's Advisory Commission weren't appointed until October.

In the meantime, a local group of veterans and health-care, education and government officials formed their own group to act independently on behalf of Walla Walla's interests.

That group, chaired by Walla Walla City Manager Duane Cole, also a member of the Advisory Commission, has come up with its own plan to maintain services and improve the sprawling facilities on the local 84-acre site.

Cole said Wednesday he has not had direct contact with Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, but he's heard the firm has made some requests for information to the local VA hospital.

Officials there could not be reached for comment this morning.

In a press release last Friday, Principi lauded the study plan as the VA's ``blueprint for the future.''``With this contract, we will ensure the historic modernization of our health-care system includes input from our veterans and other stakeholders,'' he said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has more than 25 years experience conducting health-care delivery studies and providing implementation support.

The VA's contract with the firm calls for completion of the nationwide studies by February 2006.

Study recommendations will be reviewed by the VA's undersecretary for health and CARES implementation board, which is made up of senior VA officials who will make recommendations to the secretary.

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