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VA gets hospital Wi-Fi act together

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The Veterans Affairs Department has 111 medical facilities lacking advanced Wi-Fi systems to support a number of uses, including real-time tracking of equipment and personnel. In late March, VA issued a contract to install wireless access in four of those sites by October.

The department originally contracted with Catapult Technology Ltd. in October 2008 to install Wi-Fi in 236 hospitals and clinics, but this ambitious plan foundered when the project literally ran into a wall. The thick concrete found in many older hospitals impeded transmission of the wireless signals and required installation of more access points than originally estimated, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker told lawmakers on the House Veterans Affairs Committee in May 2011.

Catapult completed Wi-Fi installation at 65 medical facilities before VA put its contract on partial hold in February 2011. In March 2012, the department awarded a new contract to support deployment of the Real-Time Location System, Baker told reporters last week. RTLS is a tracking system officials believe will help hospitals improve efficiency and ensure medical equipment is properly sterilized. It requires Wi-Fi signals to operate.

On March 22, VA awarded Harris Corp. a $19.4 million task order off its $12 billion umbrella Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology (T4) contract to cover Wi-Fi installation at 26 sites where early RTLS installation is planned, according to a white paper provided to Nextgov by VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda.

This contract covers design services, equipment and post-installation services for an initial four sites to be completed by October. The four sites are not named, but RTLS solicitation documents say VA plans initial rollout of the tracking system at hospitals in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota.

The Wi-Fi white paper said strategy for equipping the remaining 85 medical facilities will be determined at a later date. Lessons learned on the current T4 task order will help determine an appropriate strategy and contract structure.

VA also wants to install separate Wi-Fi systems in its hospitals to provide Internet access for patients and visitors. Hospitals in Augusta, Ga., and Denver have issued contracts for these systems. Baker said at the press briefing that he still had not decided whether to issue a national patient Wi-Fi contract.

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