MCI wins $35M VA phone deal

MCI has once again proven adept at obtaining federal telecommunications business that falls between the cracks of the FTS 2000 contract, winning a $35 million contract for operator-assisted long-distance services to patients and visitors to Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The award, announced two weeks ago, closely follows the company's $165 million deal late last month with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide communications services in the National Airspace System.

John Metzger, MCI's branch manager for VA contracts, said the new pact will extend MCI's six-year relationship with the Veterans Canteen Service, a nonappropriated office within the department, for another five years.

Metzger said MCI has worked closely with agencies such as the FAA and the Veterans Canteen Service to understand their operations and anticipate needs that cannot be handled through FTS 2000. "If it's outside the scope of FTS 2000, we are very interested in coming up with a solution," he said.

The contract offers long-distance calling card and pay phone services as well as service to 40,000 patient bedside phones. It will cover 172 VA medical centers nationwide.

Metzger said the $35 million figure represented an estimate of the amount of money MCI expects to make through the contract, although he added that the pact does not include a limit on how much revenue the company can obtain during the next five years.

James Donahoe, director of the Veterans Canteen Service, said the services provided by MCI do not fall under the scope of the FTS 2000 contract because they cover personal calls made by people who may not be federal employees. "The FTS 2000 network is really only for official business," he said.

The potential value of the contract may be difficult to predict accurately because the VA has only begun offering bedside phones to most patients within the last two years. Donahoe said the addition of the phones represents a new and much-needed focus by his organization on amenities that accompany health care.

"Believe it or not, bedside phones at the VA [are] a new phenomenon," he said. "When you are operating with appropriated funds, the concentration is on medical [expenditures]. In the past, we didn't pay as much attention to creature comforts as we should have. Now we are looking at the total package."

Previously, patients had to use pay phones to make long-distance calls, or else hospital workers wheeled in cumbersome phone carts that were extremely difficult to handle, Donahoe said.

Metzger said MCI will pay a commission to the VA for each call made from one of the phones - a common arrangement made by phone companies with hotels, private hospitals and other establishments. The agency will use that money to improve care and patient services, he said.

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