Highland Drive Veterans Administration Hospital

The Highland Drive Veterans Administration Hospital is a former medical center in Pennsylvania, operating from 1953 to 2013.

Table Of Contents


With the conclusion of World War II, the United States Veterans Administration ushered in 90 new and replacement hospitals for veterans. 8 Some of the new facilities included affiliations with medical schools for research and training purposes. A few pioneered modern medical advances, originating as trials or experiments as a result of the research.

Construction of a new neuropsychiatric 1,250-bed hospital and research facility for returning World War II veterans in western Pennsylvania was approved in September 1944, with land acquired in March 1947. 12 18 Preliminary plans for 956 beds were completed by Dr. Haun, an architect, and psychiatrist, 14 Alfred Hopkins & Associates of New York, 17 Bowers & Barbalat of Pittsburgh, and Prack & Prack of Pittsburgh, in November 1949. 12 17 Construction, led by Johnson, Drake & Piper, Inc. of Minneapolis, began in March 1950. 12

Leech Farm Veterans Administration Hospital
A 1949 rendering of the proposed hospital.

Over 650,000 cubic yards of earth and 6,000 tons of coal were removed and replaced with five patient treatment buildings, medical and surgical facilities, and a 500,000-gallon water tower. The centerpiece was Building 1, a six-story facility with four operating rooms, two psychiatric wards, and administrative offices. 17

The new University Drive Veterans Administration Hospital was projected to cost $19,447,176, funded in part with $34 million in Series E War Bonds. 2 13 The bond drive was led by the United States Treasury Nationality Groups. The hospital came in under budget at $16,778,649. 12

The 950-bed complex was dedicated on November 29, 1953. 11 Following a brief ceremony, nearly 10,000 persons toured the 15-building hospital. The first patient was admitted on December 1, and Peters was in full operation, with a staff of 2,000, by July 1955.

Research studies on patients began in 1954 and included work regarding the physiological, psychological, and sociological aspects of schizophrenia and the study of neurological disorders. 2

On June 8, 1975, the hospital was renamed from University Drive to the Highland Drive Veterans Administration Hospital because the road where the building resided had changed. 2 15 16 The facility was rededicated in a small ceremony on August 6 that included the First U.S. Army Band from Fort Meade, Maryland, members of Congress, various government officials, and representatives from several medical schools. 16 By the 1990s, the Appalachian hospital sprawled with more than 20 buildings over 168 acres. 2

The Highland Drive Veterans Administration Hospital consolidated with the University Drive Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the H. John Heinz III Progressive Care Center to form the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare System in October 1996. 2 3


In July 2003, 4 the Veterans Health Administration (VA) began reviewing a plan to close the Appalachian facility and transfer its services to the University Drive and H. John Heinz III hospitals. The proposal to merge the hospitals was part of the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services program in an effort to provide modern care in modern facilities. 4 A report by the VA noted that much of the campus was unused and that by closing the Appalachian facility, the VA could save $15 million a year. Nationally, the VA was spending $1 million per day to maintain facilities that were not being used. 4 5

The secretary of Veterans Affairs approved recommendations on May 7, 2004, to spend nearly $200 million to expand the University Drive and the H. John Heinz III Progressive Care Center. 5 Upon the project completion, the Appalachian hospital would be closed.

Construction started in January 2009 on the Consolidation Building at the University Drive campus. 1 The new structure, designed by Astorino/HDR and constructed by the P.J. Dick Corporation, was designed to house outpatient services and 79 secure, private psychiatric beds. The layout was planned for ease of access to inpatient and outpatient behavioral health and audiology services, an education, and multimedia center, an information center, and a business center. The project was completed at the cost of $75.8 million in mid-2012. 9

Complimenting the Consolidation Building was the construction of the $38.2 million Ambulatory Care Center at the H. John Heinz III Progressive Care Center, which would integrate primary care and behavioral health and include a pharmacy, dental clinics, rehabilitation and speech pathology facilities, and an adult daycare. 1 10 Construction on the new facility by Walsh Construction began on May 11, 2009, and was finished in December 2011. 10

The Highland Drive Veterans Administration Hospital closed in June 2013 following the opening of the Consolidation Building and the H.J. Heinz Ambulatory Care Center.

An environmental assessment report released in January 2013 called for demolishing all buildings. 6 The vacant medical center was costing the VA $300,000 a year to maintain.



  1. “Major Construction Projects.” VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 27 Mar. 2009.
  2. “Highland Drive.” VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 4 Mar. 2009.
  3. “Hospitals.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 22 May 2005. p. 52.
  4. Srikameswaran, Anita. “VA might close its East Liberty hospital, move vets to Oakland.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 Jul. 2003, p. B7.
  5. Snowbeck, Christopher. “VA secretary approves plan for hospital closing, renovations.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8 May 2004, p. A12.
  6. Fabregas, Luis. “VA Pittsburgh should reconsider demolishing Highland Drive campus, preservationists say.” TribLive, 7 Nov. 2013.
  7. “Pittsburgh mayor’s chief of staff on Capitol Hill because of abandoned VA hospital.” WPXI, 12 Jul. 2017.
  8. “Our History.” VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 6 May 2013.
  9. “Consolidation Building.” VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 6 Dec. 2012.
  10. “Ambulatory Care Center.” VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 6 Dec. 2012.
  11. “10,000 View VA’s Newest Hospital Here.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 Nov. 1953, p. 7.
  12. “New VA Hospital at Leech Farm to Open Nov. 25.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 29 Oct. 1953, p. 41.
  13. “War Bond ‘Payoff’ Shown.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Jul. 1953, p. 8.
  14. “Vets Hospital anniversary set Nov. 29.” Daily Notes [Cannonsburg], 31 Oct. 1973, p. 3.
  15. “Leech Farm Hospital Gets Name Change.” Pittsburgh Press, 8 Jun. 1975, p. D12.
  16. “Army Band to play Leech Farm Aug. 6.” News Record [North Hills], 6 Aug. 1975, p. 32.
  17. “Leech Farm Will Get Big Vets Hospital.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 15 Sept. 1949, p. 19.
  18. “VA Awards City Second Hospital.” Pittsburgh Press, 23 Mar. 1947, pp. 1-7.
  19. https://web.archive.org/web/20090416030046/http://www.pittsburgh.va.gov/docs/highland_drive_facility_map.pdf

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