Veterans Affairs officials are considering leasing part of the 364-acre Perry Point medical campus to private users to generate funds for renovation and maintenance at the aging facility, administrators said yesterday.
But Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who held a fact-finding hearing at the facility yesterday, said that the concept was a bad one and that the campus should not be leased out to the private sector.
Officials who made the announcement at the hearing stressed that although the idea was included in the recent draft of a VA study, any private leasing is still in the concept phase and might not make it into practice.
"It's in the very, very early stages," said James J. Nocks, the director of the VA Capitol Health Care Network. "We don't know where we're going with this yet."
However, Mikulski said the campus was meant for use by veterans and not by private groups. "I do not believe Perry Point was meant for Gucci condos," Mikulski said. "I want to see you in the veterans health care business, not the real estate development business."
Mikulski urged caution on changes at the Perry Point campus, noting that the facility in Cecil County should move slowly and watch the Fort Howard VA Medical Center, which is now entering an enhanced-use program of its own. That change came when the facility's mission changed last year from inpatient to outpatient care.
"Anything about Perry Point needs to go on hold until we complete Fort Howard," Mikulski said, adding that the reconfiguration at Fort Howard is expected to take much of the VA's attention in the near future.
But VA officials said leasing should at least be explored.
"I agree with [Mikulski], but I think it's something we need to look at," said Dennis Smith, the director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.
Smith said money from leasing some of the campus could do a lot for Perry Point, such as funding a new nursing home to replace the current one. The 80-bed building now in use was built in 1924; a second building, which houses an additional 50 beds, is 70 years old.
Mikulski said she is working to have the Senate pass an appropriations bill providing $29.2 billion for veterans health care for the next fiscal year, which starts in October. Mikulski is the ranking Democrat on the VA/Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. The House of Representatives recently passed a VA appropriations bill that allocated $27.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration.
Some employees are wary of the enhanced-use program. Larry Clayton, the president of the local union representing some Perry Point staff, said at the hearing that he had concerns about the leasing idea, which he and other union officials were not aware of until Friday.
"It brings up a lot of issues," Clayton said, adding that simply generating funds should not be the goal of the VA or its infrastructure study, the CARES plan.
Enhanced use "has nothing to do with the mission of the VA," he added.
A draft national plan of Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, including the proposed leasing at Perry Point, was released for public comment Aug. 4. With regard to Perry Point, the plan said: "While maintaining the current mission, redesign the campus to maximize the enhanced use lease of the campus."
The CARES commission plans a public hearing on the report at 9 a.m. today at the Marriott Hotel, 700 Aliceanna St., Baltimore.