Private group willing to finance regional VA hospital construction in Radcliff

By Ben Sheroan | The News-Enterprise

A public-private partnership is being hailed as a means to expedite construction of a new regional VA Medical Center in Radcliff that has been on the drawing board for more than a decade.

Radcliff Mayor Mike Weaver, who offered a free 50-acre site in the city’s Millpond Business Center to the Veterans Administration, is working with Dr. Robert Robbins, a retired surgeon and investor, on equity partners interested in the concept. A VA facility under construction in Omaha, Nebraska, is using the private investment model authorized six months ago by Congress.

Radcliff Mayor Mike Weaver

While the federal law is new, Robbins said the concept is not. Private money built public properties as recognizable as the Transcontinental Railroad and Golden Gate Bridge, he said.

“Almost from the beginning of our country, we’ve been involved in building done by private equity money,” Robbins said.

Based on his research, Robbins said construction would be completed 80 percent cheaper under the public-private approach and in less time. Without the motivation of profit or fear of penalties, construction of public buildings also tend to take longer to complete.

In a document prepared for a news conference, Robbins writes a “complete, comprehensive funding plan is currently being developed and will be presented to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in approximately four to eight weeks.”

Robbins’ vision extends beyond helping Radcliff convince VA officials to abandon construction plans for a new hospital off Watterson Expressway and Brownsboro Road in Jefferson County. By partnering with Hardin Memorial Health and Kentucky universities, he believes a “high-quality, integrated health care network” could be created in Hardin County.

Using the best of what’s offered in medical care from the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville hospitals combined with the 400-member medical staff at HMH, Robbins said the VA could benefit while establishing a premier health care center in the region. His idea includes using training available through Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and resources of Western Kentucky University.

Robbins, who worked at the VA Medical Center in Louisville while training as a surgeon more than 50 years ago, will be on hand for an announcement Thursday at Colvin Community Cen­ter along with five of his six-member group, which recently met with leadership at the VA hospital in Louisville.

Weaver sees the medical center idea as a cure for VA claims that the new hospital must stay near teaching facilities associated with University Hospital in Louisville.

“What this idea of Dr. Robbins does, it dispels the notation that the VA hospital has that, wherever they locate, it must be close to University Hospital,” Weaver said. “This dispels all that. I think it shoots their argument straight into the ground.”