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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — South Korea will take control of the U.S. military’s largest hospital in Seoul after Yongsan Garrison relocates in 2007, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.

When the hospital is turned over, South Korea will “receive a first-class medical hospital at no cost,” Col. Daniel Wilson, USFK engineer, stated in a news release. The U.S. government is funding extensive pre-turnover renovations and plans to spend about $60 million on the first two phases.

Officials maintain that despite plans to move forces at Yongsan Garrison south to Pyongtaek, the fixes are an investment in the alliance. Who would own the 121st Hospital was included in detailed U.S.-South Korean discussions on how to reorganize forces around the peninsula, said Lt. Col. MaryAnn B. Cummings, USFK public affairs officer.

Tuesday’s announcement came after widespread coverage in the Korean media about a recent Stripes report on plans to renovate the 121st. An Army public affairs officer in a subordinate unit had released “incomplete information” about the renovations. A “broader perspective” provides a better understanding of the project, Cummings said in the news release.

The Army had announced the renovations but not that the hospital then would be given to South Korea. Both militaries would use the 121st in the case of hostilities, officials said.

“The upgrades were needed to keep the hospital safe and functional and in order to meet requirements to maintain hospital accreditation and certification,” Wilson said in the USFK statement.

The 121st, built in 1961, is the U.S. military’s only major medical facility in South Korea. Smaller facilities, called troop medical clinics, are sprinkled throughout the country. Most severely injured or seriously ill patients are taken by helicopter to the 121st.

Cummings said she would not speculate how the U.S. military will compensate for the 121st Hospital when it is turned over to South Korea.

“We are going to have the capabilities we need,” she said.

The three-phase renovation was approved in 1998, and the first $35.4 million phase began in 2001. It is scheduled for completion in spring 2005, officials said. USFK Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. James Peake recently approved a $24.5 million second phase, officials said.

If the phase two construction stopped, the hospital would be “left in an unsafe and nonfunctional condition,” according to the news release.

Phase two is a repair and renovation project financed by operational health-care funds to fix major building code deficiencies, said Col. Philip Volpe, 18th Medical Command commander.

“If we were to wait any longer by delaying or canceling these repairs, we would run the risk of being encumbered with a facility that is rapidly becoming too dangerous for patients,” Volpe said in a release. “That is … unacceptable.”

A minimum $16 million phase two investment would be needed to continue to use the hospital, officials said. The final, third phase — pegged at an estimated $10.3 million — isn’t considered essential construction, they said Tuesday; no decision has been made whether to move ahead.

“A major part of my mission is to ensure quality, uninterrupted health care under all circumstances,” Volpe said. “We cannot compromise providing the best quality and safest care possible.”


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