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Northport VA hospital phone, pharmacy lines restored, official says

Northport VA hospital, June 6, 2016.

Northport VA hospital, June 6, 2016. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

The phones and computer system at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center went down Saturday morning, leaving many vets unable to call in prescriptions or reach hospital staff through early Monday evening, spokesman Joe Sledge said.

Communications went down Saturday morning about 10 a.m., and Verizon, the contractor handling the medical center’s communications technology, resolved the issues by 5 p.m. Monday and regular pharmacy service was resumed.Miguel Estrella, 73, of Holtsville, said he received a busy signal several days in a row this weekend when trying to call in a prescription refill. While Estrella still had about a week’s worth of medication left, he said he was concerned the outage could have affected other veterans in more critical health, and that the medical center should have informed the public about the problems.

“A lot of vets, like myself, we don’t know how to navigate through the system,” said Estrella. “We don’t know where to go for help and we weren’t informed of this problem.”

The outage was caused by a vandal in a condemned building trying to cut a portion of copper wire but instead slicing fiber optic cable, a Verizon spokesman said.

Sledge said most users trying to call into the hospital or the prescription refill line heard a busy signal.

“This is a very unusual experience,” Sledge said. “We’ve had periodic times where we’ve had downtime, but not anywhere near a day. This was longer than we anticipated.”

While the computer system was down the pharmacy was forced to work on a paper-only basis, and Sledge said any patients who tried to refill a prescription in person during the outage only received it if there was an immediate need.

“I don’t think there’s any veteran who had a critical need for a prescription that didn’t get it,” he said.

The repair process was delayed because the damaged portion of the line was inside a condemned building on VA property, Verizon spokesman Raymond McConville said. He said someone had accessed the building and cut the fiber optic line while trying to sever a piece of copper wire.

“This was an act of vandalism,” McConville said.

In addition to repairing the line, Verizon rerouted it out of the condemned building to avoid similar issues, he said.

A VA spokesman said VA police and the Office of the Inspector General were investigating.

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