The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care network that covers Washington, D.C., will take over the leadership of the VA’s New Orleans system, including the $1 billion hospital now under construction on Canal Street, the department announced Tuesday. Fernando Rivera will start as director and chief executive officer of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System on Jan. 11.

The system, which has about 1,300 employees, is responsible for providing care to 66,500 veterans in the region and operates clinics in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Slidell, Hammond, Bogalusa, Franklin, Houma and St. John Parish.

It is affiliated with the Tulane and LSU medical schools and is designated as one of nine VA Emerging Centers of Innovation for patient-centered care.

Rivera has been with the Department of Veterans Affairs for 30 years and previously was in charge of the VA Capitol Health Care Network.

His career with the agency includes 20 years in a variety of positions with the VA Medical Center in New Orleans and work as acting director and chief executive officer of the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport.

He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of New Orleans.

“We are excited to bring Mr. Rivera on board as the new director of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System,” the system’s acting director, Gregg Parker, said in a news release. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the facility, the employees, volunteers and, most importantly, for the veterans we are honored to serve.”

The VA in New Orleans is gearing up to operate the new 200-bed hospital in Mid-City that is now under construction and expected to be completed by 2016. The hospital is next to the state’s $1 billion University Medical Center, which also is under construction and expected to be completed next year.

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