January 5, 2010
HOUSTON – Parking at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is a serious problem. Veterans, visitors, volunteers, and employees know this all too well. Dramatic growth in the Texas Medical Center and the increased number of Veterans seeking VA health care have aggravated the problem; however, hospital administration is taking action to improve the situation.
In fiscal year 2000, the Houston VA had 474,901 outpatient visits. Last year, fiscal year 2009, that number almost doubled to 815,695
The MEDVAMC is one of the few hospitals in the Texas Medical Center with free parking. It is believed individuals who work in the Texas Medical Center, park here, catch buses or ride bikes to their workplace. The VA Police continuously stop and question people to determine if they have legitimate business here, but this can be difficult. In the past, VA reimbursed owners who had their cars towed after discovering the person was a long-term inpatient or genuine visitor.
Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) is our major hospital affiliate and the majority of our doctors are also on the faculty at BCM. MEDVAMC operates the largest VA residency program with 259 slots. Each academic year, more than 1,972 students are trained through 144 affiliation agreements with institutions of higher learning. Health care students from fields such as nursing, dietetics, social work, physical therapy, and a wide variety of medical specialties receive training here each year. This responsibility serves to enhance the quality of care provided to our Veterans.
Almost 900 employees participate in the MEDVAMC Mass Transit Program, consisting of 79 vanpools, numerous carpools, and the Metro Bus system. The MEDVAMC runs the single, largest vanpool program in the city of Houston and has been recognized as a benchmark for not only VA facilities nationwide, but also within the Houston business community. This employee initiative is an effort to free up parking spaces on the VA complex for Veterans to use.
Last March, a VA motor pool parking area was established on the corner of Cate Terrace and Ringness Avenue, adjacent to the Holcombe Gate. All vanpool vehicles and government vehicles remotely park there to free up spaces in the regular parking lots. A shuttle service is provided for drivers parking in this area.
Free valet parking is available at the MEDVAMC main entrance for Veterans. This service operates Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., except for federal holidays. This service is extremely valuable for elderly, wheelchair or scooter-bound, and heat-sensitive Veterans.
The MEDVAMC has an approved and funded project to reconfigure some of the parking lots as well as increase surface parking. The project is currently in the design award stage with construction scheduled for early summer 2010. This initiative will generate an additional 400 spaces. The project will also expand valet parking capacity to resolve daily closure issues. The parking reconfiguration will not take place until the additional parking lots have been completed.
Looking into the future, the MEDVAMC has requested funding to build a parking structure. It will be constructed in two phases with a final capacity ranging from 750 to 1,200 parking spaces.
While these projects are being worked, the MEDVAMC Parking Committee is evaluating a recommendation to place gates on all parking lots on the VA complex. This requires further detailed study to review the impact and implementation of a token/validation system while ensuring Veterans, employees, volunteers, visitors, and medical residents are not charged for parking. Vendors and other external parties choosing to use the VA complex for parking will be charged just like the other health care facilities in the Texas Medical Center.
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