Confusion swirls on future of UTRGV’s lease with VA in Harlingen

dfwnewsa | January 26, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

Confusion swirls on future of UTRGV’s lease with VA in Harlingen

With the lease contract for the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen with UTRGV expiring in 2022, a VA official said the university wants them to vacate the property next year while UTRGV claims that’s not true and that it’s willing to work with the VA to serve Valley veterans.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Brownsville, initially brought the dispute to light when he wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough calling for a VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

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When asked for comment, Gonzalez’s staff referred all questions to Patrick Gonzales, UTRGV’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Gonzales confirmed that the lease between the two parties for the Veterans Outpatient Clinic located in Harlingen ended in May 2022.

The VA Health Care Center at Harlingen is seen on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

UTRGV and the VA are currently engaged in active discussions regarding the lease and during this interim period, the VA has been able to still utilize the facility to serve veterans, Gonzales said.

The lease initially began in 2007 with the University of Texas Health Science Center. In 2017, UTRGV inherited the property and renewed the contract for five years.

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Gonzales said the 2017 five-year contract had an option to renew the lease for another five years but the VA did not exercise the extension.

“They didn’t renew the five-year option and now they want a three-year option with maybe an option for another year in 2026,” Gonzales said. “They have a history of renewing every five years and for some reason this year, they chose to do three years and we’ve been told by them, it’s because they’re looking for a different location.”

In the 2017 contract, Gonzales said the VA had to provide a written notice within 180 days of the lease concluding, which they did not do and moved to wanting to do a three-year lease from 2022 to 2025.

A veteran walks into the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

As lease negotiations are underway, VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Public Affairs Officer Hugo Martinez stated that UTRGV expressed they do not want to extend the lease beyond 2025.

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“(What) I can tell you is that what they, UTRGV, has told us (is) that … they made it clear that they do not want to extend the lease beyond 2025,” Martinez said.

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Martinez said that the VA is going to continue to provide services to the veterans of the Valley whether it is at the current clinic or a new location. He said contracting staff are actively looking for a new location when it comes time to vacate the property.

When asked whether UTRGV does not want to extend the lease beyond 2025, Gonzales said that’s false. He said UTRGV did not tell the VA that they are out then.

“There’s no truth in that,” he said. “They chose to not exercise, for the first time since … the initial agreement in 2007 … their five-year option to extend the lease. … But what we’re doing is, we just continue to work with them to make sure that service to our veterans is not interrupted. So if they want a three-year lease, a four-year lease, you know, we’re trying to do all we can to prioritize our veterans.”

Asked why the VA clinic did not pick up the option to extend the lease another five years in 2022 or past 2025, Martinez again said that UTRGV told the VA they want them to vacate the building in 2025.

“They told us that they wanted us to vacate the building in 2025,” Martinez said, “They wanted the building back, not that we didn’t want to go beyond … 2025 … they were not willing to extend the lease beyond 2025.”

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The VA serves around 10,000 patients every year and is still currently fully operational.

The post Confusion swirls on future of UTRGV’s lease with VA in Harlingen appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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