Senators call for rebuilding West Haven VA hospital following blast that killed two workers
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING | Hartford Courant | Published: November 16, 2020
HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — After an explosion that killed two workers, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are calling for the federal government to rebuild the Veterans Affairs medical complex in West Haven.
Blumenthal said he would make it a top priority to contact the administration of President-elect Joe Biden on the need for improvements.
"The capital plant at the hospital needs to be, in my view, completely replaced,'' Blumenthal said in Hartford. "The hospital needs to be rebuilt. It’s on a list to be replaced, but that list so far hasn’t reached the VA facility [in West Haven].''
Blumenthal added, "One of my priorities as a member of the VA committee, going into this new administration, will be to persuade Joe Biden that we need to rebuild the VA facility. I’ve been pressing administrations for the past 8 to 10 years. Rosa DeLauro has joined me in that effort. ... The VA facility dates from the 1950s. It is an old, creeky, outdated facility. It has a new shell on the outside, but it has structural weaknesses.''
A frequent visitor to the multi-building complex through the years, Blumenthal cited problems at the aging plant.
"For example, the operating suites — some of them — can’t accommodate heavier equipment that has to be suspended from the internal structures within the building,'' Blumenthal said. "There’s a real need to rebuild this facility.''
A key help, Blumenthal said, would be if DeLauro becomes chair of the House appropriations committee, which will be determined in a caucus vote in December. Some political colleagues consider DeLauro, who has served in Congress for three decades, to be the favorite for the position.
Murphy agreed with Blumenthal that rebuilding is needed in West Haven.
"The hospital has a very old mechanical system that requires pretty constant maintenance,'' said Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "This has been a lingering issue for a long time at the hospital — the fact that they have not been able to do a major upgrade to their mechanicals. The heating and air conditioning system in that building is far too old. While they’ve made a lot of upgrades, it’s part of the reason why the entire campus does need to be rebuilt.''
An employee, who was a U.S. Navy veteran, and a contractor were working on November 13 on steam pipe equipment at the time of the explosion in a maintenance building that was not part of the hospital itself. Officials stressed that no patients at the hospital, which is in a separate building, were in any danger. Blumenthal said the fatal explosion could be "mechanical failure or a mistake on the part of someone at the VA.''
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