Seattle veterans clinic closes after mold, ceiling leak reports

The VA clinic in Building 18 has been closed down, several weeks after staff and patients raised concerns about the building’s deteriorating conditions.
The VA clinic in Building 18 has been closed down, several weeks after staff and patients raised concerns about the building’s deteriorating conditions. (Caroline Walker Evans for Cascade PBS) 

by Lauren Gallup Lizz Giordano

The Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System shut the doors to its South Clinic, less than three weeks after staff and patients publicly raised the alarm over deteriorating conditions in the building following years of deferred maintenance.

The complaints also drew questions from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Adam Smith, who called on VA administrators to explain what had “prevented the planned and approved renovations of the building” over the past decade. 

A recent NWPB and Cascade PBS investigation found patients and staff in the clinic’s Building 18 endured years of a failing HVAC system in need of replacement. It left the building cold in the winter and stuffy in the summer. The facility also did not have proper air circulation and had recurring water leaks that brought ceiling tiles crashing down onto desks. 

Murray and Smith cited recent reporting outlining “numerous health and safety hazards including ceiling leaks, overtaxed ventilation systems, mold, and water-damage” in a July 2 letter addressed to the health care system’s executive director, Dr. Thomas Bundt.

“There are also reports that although these conditions have been present for years, maintenance and deadlines for moving operations out of the building were continuously delayed, …  endangering the staff and patients who use this building on a daily basis,” the letter states.


This story was reported in collaboration with Cascade PBS


Murray and Smith asked the VA to provide a current timeline for the building and to commit to biannual briefings on the hospital campus with staffers from each office. The two elected officials also wrote in the letter that Congress had authorized a demolition plan for Building 18 and others on the Seattle campus in 2012, and that final funding had been secured this year. 

A local VA spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter on Tuesday morning.

“We are in the process of addressing the areas raised in the letter directly with those congressional offices,” she wrote.

As detailed in prior reporting by NWPB and Cascade PBS, Building 18 had been slated for demolition for over a decade. In that time, VA administrators stopped investing significant money in the building, with its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system flagged for replacement since at least 2004.

Water leaks caused ceiling tiles to collapse; the HVAC system could not adequately cool or heat the space; and staff and patients said they saw mold in the building. The ventilation system also did not meet air circulation requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a VA report.

The agency started relocating staff and services in August 2023, according to the VA, with a goal of having everyone out by the end of that year, which did not happen. 

While waiting to be moved, some staffers took complaints to their elected representatives. The July letter from Murray and Smith detailed some of those letters, sent last fall by staffers in the logistic office. 

In response to questions from NWPB and Cascade PBS in late June, the VA said it was on track to have all staff and services out of Building 18 in a couple of months but declined to provide a more specific timeline.

Printer paper closure signs hang on the wooden doors to the South Clinic

The doors to the now closed South Clinic in Building 18 on the Seattle VA hospital campus on June 26 with signs detailing where speciality clinics have moved. (Credit: Doug Galuszka)

VA officials as well as photos from building staff confirmed the clinic had closed. The VA did not confirm a specific day. All specialty clinics that were housed in the South Clinic have been moved to other buildings on the Seattle VA campus on Beacon Hill, according to the VA.

“While relocations come with challenges, given there were no clinic closures or appointment cancellations, the moves have gone very smoothly,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes wrote in an email.

Fewer than 10 of the approximately 120 staff members previously assigned to Building 18 still work there, according to Hayes. This includes the grounds crew, the Mohs histology tissue lab, and a contractor that services copy machines. Hayes said they will be relocated by mid-July.

Hayes said the move is taking longer for the Mohs lab because a special exhaust hood was required. He said the grounds crew is still there because that department needs to move to a large space.

The Joint Commission, the organization that accredits VA hospitals, also made an unannounced visit to Building 18, according to several staffers who worked in the building, a little over a week after the Cascade PBS and NWPB investigation was published on June 5.

Al Adams, a veteran, volunteers once a week escorting patients around the 44-acre campus. Adams said he was at the hospital on June 14 when the Joint Commission arrived, and escorted them to the fifth floor, where they met with executive leadership.

Adams is also part of a VA patient and family advisory group, where he said veteran advocates have raised concerns about Building 18. In those meetings, Adams said VA leadership told him and others that emergency maintenance problems pushed out relocation timelines for Building 18.

The VA and The Joint Commission declined to confirm or answer questions about the visit.

Murray’s office stated they hope to receive a response in the coming weeks from the VA.