Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Site work starts
for vets’ home in Hilo

HILO >> Demolition of the dilapidated Puumaile Hospital next to Hilo Medical Center is scheduled to begin next month as work begins to clear the site for a new $28.4 million veterans' home, officials said.

Hospital officials armed with sledgehammers will be on hand Sept. 1 to take ceremonial whacks marking the start of the demolition of old Puumaile, later called Hilo Hospital, said Joni Urasaki, a medical center spokeswoman.

"We couldn't get the big wrecking ball, so we figured that's what we thought we might do," Urasaki said.

Approval and funding for the 95-bed, long-term care veterans' home project was secured in 2003 with authorization of $10 million from the Legislature and $18.4 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hawaii Health Systems Corp. President Thomas Driskill, whose agency will operate the veterans home in a partnership with the federal office, has said the facility should be completed before the end of 2006.

Hawaii is one of three states without a veterans' care home.

Driskill said the new facility will address a "long-standing crisis" in Hawaii -- a lack of long-term care hospital beds. "This is part of the plan for addressing that," he said.

Advocates at first lobbied for a 200-bed facility with the state's construction cost pegged at $16 million and the federal government paying $29 million. That eventually was scaled back to 95 beds with the facility planned for future expansion.

The project is expected to create about 100 jobs.

The old Puumaile hospital was completed in 1951 as a 216-bed facility to treat tuberculosis patients.



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