The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center in August 2016.

The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center in August 2016. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Northport VA Medical Center has reportedly hired its first female OB/GYN to serve women veterans, including those who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.

The announcement, which came from the office of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), ends more than four years of fierce resistance by the Northport VA to the hiring of a female obstetrician/gynecologist.

The Women's Health program at Long Island's only hospital for roughly 100,000 veterans residing in Nassau and Suffolk has long employed only one male OB/GYN, despite pleas from female veteran advocates who lobbied for choice in their health care. The program served about 2,300 female veterans in fiscal 2019, the VA said.

"It seemed to me to be archaic to be asking these women to see a man who they were not comfortable with for their most personal of care," said Navy veteran Cathie Norton Doherty of East Islip, a veterans advocate and chair of national military and veterans affairs for the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. "It was a really long road and we're happy they finally hired one."

Details about the hire were not immediately released and it was not clear when, or if, she has started to take appointments.

The Northport VA's job listing for the position indicates the doctor will work part time at the hospital for the next three years.

The VA did not respond to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Doherty, who works as an aide for Legis. Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters), said the OB/GYN issue came to light in 2018 while she was facilitating a women's veterans peer group. Multiple women, she said, including those who have experienced rape or harassment while in uniform, said they would be more comfortable visiting Northport if they could be examined by a female doctor.

Doherty sought the help of Zeldin, an Army veteran, who wrote multiple letters to Northport advocating for the hire.

But the VA resisted for more than four years, arguing that female veterans were happy with their existing care and that few women were utilizing Northport's gynecological care.

"The utilization for this specific clinic in FY2019 was 57% with less than a two-day estimated wait," Northport VA Director Antonio Sanchez told Zeldin in an Aug. 9, 2020, letter. " … Based on this utilization information, clinical demand and the ability to provide these services in the community, the Northport VA Medical Center cannot justify additional staff to perform gynecological services."

The VA later said they were not permitted to put out a hiring notice limiting the search to only female doctors but Zeldin's office found exceptions in labor law for "therapeutic care" or to "protect bodily privacy."

Zeldin, who is running for governor, said he is glad Northport acquiesced to community concerns.

“Northport’s female patients made tremendous sacrifices, some of them at great physical and emotional costs, on behalf of our nation," Zeldin said in a prepared statement. "They deserve to have access to high quality care as well as providers with whom they have the highest levels of comfort.”

The VA's Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission issued a report this month proposing to end nearly all services provided at the Northport VA, including shuttering its emergency room and transitioning its residential rehabilitation program to Southeast Queens. Implementation of the controversial proposal, which has angered local veterans, appears to be years off.

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