A Legacy in the Making

June 13, 2017

The “activation” phase for a new medical center is when everything must come together: both the “hard” activation of equipment, furniture, fixtures and furnishings, and technology; and the “soft” activation involving people, policies, and systems. They all must be synchronized and organized into activation phases corresponding to each part of a new medical center as it is completed and opened to patients. In 2016, Atlas was hard at work on two activations for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

When Hurricane Katrina flooded the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in New Orleans in the summer of 2005, the VA worked around the clock to restore services. Just months later, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) made plans for creating an all-new, state-of-the-art health care campus a few blocks from the old facility. The new center, totaling 1.7 million square feet of space, is now officially known as the Southern Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS). Throughout its development and activation, the replacement medical center has been known as “Project Legacy,” to acknowledge the service and sacrifices of Veterans.

One of the signature features of the facility is that every mission-critical infrastructure system is more than 20 feet above ground level, with independent back-up power that can keep the campus running for five days. But the flood-proofing of Project Legacy is not the only break with the past. 

VHA was also determined to avoid delays and cost overruns, so it stood up a government Program Management Office (PMO) under Project Legacy, to oversee and manage planning, design, construction, and activation activities. The PMO vision was to adopt a more rigorous, systematic process based on project management best practices, stronger governance, and more transparent status reporting than in past VA construction projects. The VA Acquisition Academy provided high-level collaboration and guidance based on lessons learned from other medical center activations, and the PMO engaged key stakeholder groups, including Veterans, in the planning and design process. To ensure success in both the pre-planning and implementation phases of activation – a process that begins 18 to 24 months prior to a facility opening for operations – Project Legacy stood up four pillars of activation covering physical, service, regulatory, and integrated product team readiness. A SharePoint based Activation Information Management System (AIMS) was designed by the Acquisition Academy Program Management School for Project Legacy’s PMO to enable accountable and transparent communications. The PMO turned to Atlas Research for project management support to facilitate activation tasks and priorities with each service/clinical program and track and report regularly on progress, barriers, and risks.

For New Orleans, this meant supporting the PMO in the management and tracking of the expedited hiring of 1,100 staff; development of more than 800 procurement packages; delivery and installation of more than 40,000 pieces of medical equipment; development of more than 500 policies and standard operating procedures governing the operation of the new medical campus; building of more than 400 medical informatics systems and templates; and identification of employee training requirements for more than 65 services/clinical programs. 

Atlas facilities activation experts brought industry best practices to bear, successfully creating VA’s first-ever integrated master schedule for activating a major replacement hospital. This substantially reduced schedule and management risks. Atlas worked with partners in the activation effort that provided Project Legacy leadership an empowering decision support system based on real-time data, including a forecasting dashboard based on Microsoft Project Service and High-Level Integrated Master Schedules, so that they could avoid or mitigate potential challenges that might impede progress. 

In December 2016, the first phase of Project Legacy was activated on schedule. On hand to celebrate the milestone were SLVHCS Medical Center Director Fernando O. Rivera, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. The entire Atlas activation team shared the sentiments of Director Rivera, who said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, “We are a dedicated and determined team with much perseverance and passion for Veterans and the care that they so richly deserve.”