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Hospital announces spinal center plans

More than 20 years after moving their patients into "temporary" facilities, doctors and administrators at Tampa's veterans hospital announced plans Thursday for a new 100-bed Spinal Cord Injury Center.

The hospital has room for 68 spinal cord patients, and the existing center is often full, said Sandra Janzen, chief nurse at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in north Tampa.

The new center will give patients and staff more room and free up space to expand the hospital's ambulatory care program, she said.

Hospital officials held a reception and press conference Thursday to announce plans for the center even though there's no money to build it.

"This is a very important step. The design is now complete," said U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor.

Bilirakis, a longtime supporter of the spinal cord center, said the fight for funding to design the facility is an example of how things often work _ or don't work _ in government.

"We kept getting authorization for funding, and then we would lose it," Bilirakis said. "At times the VA would propose the funding, and we would get it through the House and lose it in committee. Other times, it wouldn't be recommended by the administration so we couldn't get it through the Appropriations Committee."

Bilirakis said he and others finally met with Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown in June and with Brown's approval were able to include $4-million in the fiscal 1995 budget to complete the working drawings needed for construction.

About $1-million has been spent so far in designing the center, an engineering plant and a parking garage, said Don Dwore, architect with Spillis Candela & Partners, a West Palm Beach company in charge of the project.

Spillis Candela was contracted to design the center in 1984, but money to begin the project wasn't available until 1990, Dwore said.

The center will be built on the west side of the VA property, next to the Radiation Therapy Unit.

It should take about a year to complete the construction drawings, and once the money is available, about two years to build the center, Dwore said.

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