Our friend and occasional colleague Dr. Peter Hasselbacher has the scoop of the day at his Kentucky Health Policy Institute blog.
Peter’s tireless coverage of the Veteran Administration’s plans for the new Brownsboro Road facility has unearthed an embryonic effort, Grow Smart Louisville. Grow Smart Louisville apparently has organized to try and stop the Robley Rex VA Medical Center from relocating to The Midlands property along the crowded commercial corridor and redirect it downtown.
The federal government paid $12.9 million for the 36-acre site at Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway, purchasing it from a group of investors led by Louisville-based businessman Jonathan Blue.
The Brownsboro Road site was chosen after years of public debate about the relative merits of at least four other options including a downtown site.
Courier-Journal reporter Chris Otts wrote an August 8 exposé reporting that shockingly, the investors made a profit off the property exceeding the rate of inflation. Which essentially is zero. We calculate the annualized return on the property – purchased in 2004 for $7.9 million for a retail/residential complex – at about a 7 percent, which is for context is roughly the yeild the group would have gotten had they bought KFC Yum! Center bonds.
But we digress.
Peter told us he became aware of Grow Smart Louisville at an August 15 public hearing with planners, architects and engineers from Oculus Inc. and Perkins & Will, contractors developing a master plan for the 120-bed hospital.
At the meeting, Eric Gunderson represented Grow Smart Louisville, explaining concerns of area residents about increased traffic and other issues.
Since Peter had never heard of Grow Smart Louisville, he did a little research and found that Gunderson, a former account manager at Doe Anderson, the Louisville-based advertising agency, is founder/CEO of Valeo Communications, which publishes a lifestyles magazine for physicians.
On its website, Grow Smart Louisville is described as “a local non-profit organization working to promote smart growth in Metro Louisville. We work to educate citizens on the different phases of development: to advocate transparency throughout the planning and design process; and to facilitate communication between developers and citizens to create the most positive outcome for all parties involved.”
On the VA hospital at Midlands, the organization has a clear position:
The new Louisville VA medical complex needs to support the current and future Veterans with THE BEST care for the known-current and unknown-future injuries our Vets sustained while serving our country. The Vets of Kentucky deserve the opportunity for world-class medical treatment, which is readily available in the downtown Louisville Medical Complex. We need your voice to be heard. The New Louisville VA Medical Center would best serve our Veterans, and the community as a whole, at a downtown Louisville location–NOT at the proposed Midlands site.
This is from Peter’s post about the VA hearing:
A new advocacy effort to challenge site location.
(Gunderson) was an articulate and dispassionate speaker …. who claimed not to be a neighbor at Brownsboro Road, and who was there representing the organization Grow Smart Louisville. He stated that his group believed the master planning process should come to a halt and asserted that the hospital should be built downtown. His arguments had little to do with the quality of patient care, but were couched in the economic development terms we have heard before from the University (of Louisville) and other downtown boosters. These were: enhancing the downtown campus, greater growth potential, ability to more easily obtain federal research grants, a more accessible site with existing infrastructure, and in short, a better return on investment. He wanted to know if the new site was set in stone, or under what circumstances the site selection process could be reopened. I later asked Mr. Gunderson if his organization included the University of Louisville, and he said no. As I came to learn, Mr. Gunderson also has leadership roles in organizations in which the University also has major involvement and which also advocate for downtown development.
A quick Google search later revealed that Mr. Gunderson runs a Louisville marketing and consulting company for physicians and healthcare organizations. He is on the Board of Directors of the Health Enterprises Network which is the healthcare-related business arm of Greater Louisville Inc. He is also on the Board of the Louisville Arena Authority that manages the Yum Arena where UofL plays basketball. Upon learning this, I was not surprised at the businesslike and business-oriented nature of his presentation.
I had not heard of Grow Smart Louisville before, but it was obvious Mr. Gunderson was working in a coordinated way with the unhappy residents who were handing out Grow Smart’s material at the meeting. I looked at the website listed on that recruiting handbill, www.growsmartlouisville.org. The physical address listed is that of the Shelbyville Road Plaza where Trader Joe’s and the St. Matthews Post Office is. There is no information provided about the membership or sponsorship of the organization. The website itself was registered less than month ago. The only issue it concerns itself with is the location of the new VA Hospital.
In turn, Gunderson posted comments on Peter’s post that include the following graphs:
I wanted to respond to a few of your comments about Grow Smart Louisville and my involvement as president of this organization.
Grow Smart Louisville firmly believes veterans will receive better care if the medical center is relocated downtown adjacent to University Hospital. A downtown VA hospital will have room for growth to meet the changing medical needs of veterans, will help make the downtown medical campus as a whole more attractive to the top talent Louisville needs to recruit for veterans and civilians, will enhance our opportunities to earn federal research grants which will be used to develop and implement new medical procedures for our veterans and will shorten disruptive and dangerous trips to downtown hospitals when veterans needs are beyond the capacity of the medical center.
I have been a board member for both the Health Enterprises Network and Louisville Arena Authority for the past three years. Neither of these organizations are directly linked to the University and I, personally, have no affiliation with U of L. My intentions for helping start Grow Smart Louisville are the same as the reason I volunteer my time to HEN and LAA – I have a strong belief that Louisville has a wonderful opportunity to assume a leading national position in the health care industry which will lead to better employment and growth opportunities for all citizens, and that our downtown should be the economic and cultural center of our community. This includes showcasing our treasured veterans in a place where they will receive the care and attention they deserve.
I have worked with doctors for the past ten years to help them efficiently and effectively grow their practices and businesses. I know that many of our local medical professionals believe that the downtown location is the best choice for the VA Medical Center. I have been encouraged by many doctors to fight for the relocation of the site as I shared my plans for Grow Smart Louisville with them.
Grow Smart Louisville came to be because of my own disappointment with the decision-making process that led to the current site selection. I do have friends who live in Crossgate and I approached them to ask if they thought it was too late to help in some way. Together we concluded that, if we could start an organization that would attract enough people who feel as I do, that the decision to build the VA Medical Center at the Midlands location was a poor one and was made without much opportunity for wide-spread input from the community, maybe we could engage our political leaders and the VA to reconsider their decision and do the right thing.
It is true that we hope to delay the building of the VA Medical Center at the current site selection. Our hope is to get several thousands of citizens from the 35 counties the VA Medical Center will serve to visit our website at http://www.growsmartlouisville.com, sign our petition, and allow us to reach out to the decision makers about rethinking the current course.
It would be nice to get paid for my time in this effort (I know my wife would appreciate it), but the fact of the matter is I look at this site selection as one of those moments that my kids might ask about one day and wonder, “What were they thinking?!?”. And, “Why didn’t YOU try do do something about this?”. Our small group that has started Grow Smart Louisville is trying to do something about this and I hope your readers can help.
More as we know more ….