After five years of delays, Suffolk and federal veterans officials said Monday a new $1 million veterans health clinic at the Riverhead county center, expected to serve more than 3,000 East End veterans a year, will open in early spring, perhaps by the end of March.
"These services are incredibly important to veterans and unacceptably long overdue," said Thomas Ronayne, director of Suffolk's Veterans Services Agency. Philip Weisbroat the Veterans Affairs facilities planner, said furniture is already being moved in. The contractor is working on a punch list of unfinished items, he said, and hopes to have an official opening date in about two weeks.
Currently, the Veterans Administration operates a temporary health clinic three days a week at Gabreski county airport in Westhampton. Once in full operation, the new facility will operate five days a week and include evening and weekend hours. JoAnne Anderson, the clinic coordinator, said that the operation will increase from the current 24 hours a week to 56 hours a week by summer.
Officials said that past delays were caused by difficulties in finding an acceptable site for the clinic, meeting access requirements and negotiating a final agreement.
Under the joint project, officials said, the county is making 4,000 square feet of space available in its Riverhead county center and installed an elevator and a separate entrance to accommodate veterans along with 14 new handicapped parking spaces outside the building. The Veterans Administration is staffing and furnishing the new clinic which will include both primary care and mental health care. The Veterans Administration also will expand existing mobile services such as hypertension screenings as well as in-home health services. The state has also kicked in a $500,000 grant to help pay for improvements.
Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said the new clinic means East End veterans will not have to make the long drive or take the two-hour bus ride to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Northport for the bulk of their medical services. "Riverhead is not far away for locals on the East End, but Northport is a long haul," he said. He added the new clinic will also serve veterans in eastern Brookhaven, cutting their travel time too.