Four years ago, Texas officials heralded the gift of a red brick hospital in a residential neighborhood, unveiling plans to convert the onetime Veterans Affairs center into a prison hospital for women. Today, after funding for the project evaporated, the six-story building remains vacant, says the Austin American-Statesman. Texas taxpayers continue to pick up the tab for maintaining the empty structure — $1.2 million and counting.
Prison officials said they are following the wishes of the legislature, but a key lawmaker whose committee oversees the prison agency said keeping the building makes little sense in such tight budget times. Meanwhile, the female prisoners whom the hospital was intended to serve continue to be transported to the Gulf Coast when they require hospitalization. “There are no plans to move ahead with that project at present, because there is no funding,” said Brian Collier of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Sen. John Whitmire said the dead-end project is another example of wasted money at the prison agency, at a time when employees have been laid off, programs have been deeply cut and prison medical care faces further cuts. “I’m fed up with this bureaucracy not paying attention to how they spend money,” he said. Officials said they had no choice but to spend money to keep the former VA hospital from deteriorating until a decision on its future is made.