Lehman Torpedoed Hospital

Posted: February 24, 1986

Navy Secretary John Lehman Jr. said this morning that he recommended the 50-year-old Philadelphia Navy Hospital be placed on a hit list of three ''unneeded" military facilities.

It was the first time Lehman had made public that he is behind the move to close the hospital.

Speaking at a news conference aboard the USS Independence, Lehman promised that the Naval Yard adjacent to the hospital would remain in business "into the next century" with no layoffs. But Lehman said he had recommended to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that the hospital be closed because it is ''obsolete" and "non-cost-effective."

"It would be more cost-effective to build another hospital," Lehman said, but that that would be "impossible" because of federal budget cuts.

"Our intention is to have Navy personnel here take advantage of the excellent civilian health care available here in Philadelphia," Lehman said, adding, "I don't see any major impact" as a result of a hospital shutdown.

Hospital spokesman Lt. Mark Walker said about 792 people, including 200 civilians, are employed at the 115-bed hospital. At its peak during the

Vietnam War, about 1,100 people worked there, Walker said.

Lehman's comments came as he and the Philadelphia congressional delegation toured the Navy Yard this morning. After the tour, Lehman, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, praised the workers and their supervisors.

"We have no intention of phasing out the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard," Lehman said, prompting cheers from workers. "We want it for the long haul."

Lehman also vowed that the Navy Yard would continue to receive the lucrative Service Life Extension Program contracts to overhaul World War II aircraft carriers. Lehman credited the yard's success with SLEP for ''enabling us to have a 50-year ship when we build a carrier."

The Navy Yard, which employs about 9,500 people, was on a hit list submitted to Congress last spring that included 22 facilities nationwide. Congress refused to close any of the facilities.

The hospital is on another hit list made public last month of three facilities the Defense Department would like to close. The other facilities that Weinberger has described as "unneeded" are the Army Materials Laboratory in Watertown, Mass., and Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.

Controversy surrounded the list last month, when there was confusion about who had made the recommendations.

U.S. Rep. William H. Gray III has accused Weinberger of a "clumsy effort to intimidate" prominent House Democrats into higher defense spending by listing military facilities in their home states for possible closing.

Those facilities are in the home states of Democrats who have been critical of the administration's military spending policies, Gray, a Philadelphian and chairman of the House Budget Committee, points out in a letter to Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gray released the letter today to coincide with Lehman's scheduled tour of the shipyard.

". . . What criteria were employed to select these three bases?" Gray asks in the Feb. 21 letter. "Is it mere coincidence that the same mysterious criteria do not apply to bases located (in states of prominent Republicans)?"

"Your proposal appears to be nothing more than a clumsy attempt to intimidate (House) Speaker (Thomas P.) O'Neill, Congresswoman (Patricia) Schroeder and myself." O'Neill represents Massachusetts, Schroeder represents Colorado.

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