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Northport VA Medical Center director Philip Moschitta to retire

Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center director Philip C.

Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center director Philip C. Moschitta in his office at the medical center Thursday, March 29, 2017. Moschitta will retire on Saturday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center director Philip C. Moschitta, who earned kudos for expanding health care services on Long Island but drew criticism last year over a monthslong closure of operating rooms, is retiring.

His last day is Saturday.

“I’m going to miss it,” said Moschitta, 65, whose VA career began in 1973 as a physical therapist for amputees in Manhattan, and ends with him directing a medical system with about 2,000 employees and a $320 million budget. “I really, really love working with the vets.”

Moschitta guided an extension of VA health care into new or expanded facilities in Riverhead, Patchogue, and Valley Stream. A partnership with Northwell Health, which serves veterans and their families at a single Bay Shore facility, has been lauded by the Rand Corp. as a national model.

A day care center at Northport that opened during Moschitta’s tenure allows patients to drop off children while receiving medical care.

And in a VA survey that measures death rates, medical complications, patient satisfaction and other parameters, Northport showed improvement, climbing from a 2-star ranking in 2014 to 4 stars last year, with 5 being the highest.

“He is leaving a medical center that is squared away,” said Tom Ronayne, Suffolk County’s director of veterans services. “He’s been a good resource.”

But Moschitta’s record was tarnished last year when he quietly suspended surgeries at Northport for nearly four months because of airborne contaminants from aging ventilation equipment in all five of the facility’s operating rooms.

Local members of Congress criticized him for moving too slowly to arrange for repairs and failing to inform them of the problem.

Other allegations leveled by anonymous whistleblowers led to a field hearing by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs at Northport in September. The allegations, which included an assertion that Northport turned away a patient who later committed suicide, and another that the facility was collecting federal reimbursements for patients it never saw, were never substantiated.

Vincent F. Immiti, the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, has been named interim director effective Monday, the VA said Friday.

Immiti will arrive on Long Island having managed a combined health system that is about twice as large as Long Island’s veterans care network. He has supervised two medical centers — in East Orange and Lyons — as well as nine community clinics in New Jersey since just Jan. 1. Those facilities total 3,100 employees and serve nearly 60,000 patients annually, according to a VA website.

He previously served as the associate director at the 300-bed James J. Peters VA Medical Center, in the Bronx, and was an administrator at the Harbor Health Care System, in Manhattan. He also has taught medical administration as an adjunct professor at St. John’s University.

Immiti will take over as the VA enters an uncertain period nationally, with a new administration in Washington, a hiring freeze on federal workers and Republican challenges to the Affordable Care Act, said Terri Tanielian, a veterans health policy analyst for Rand. Tanielian said changes to Obamacare could push more veterans into the VA system, stretching resources.

Moschitta cited other challenges at Northport, including an aging complex marred by leaking roofs, crumbling walkways and failing equipment.

There is also pressure nationwide to increase patient access following a 2014 scandal, in which VA administrators were forced to admit that patients in Phoenix had died while waiting to be scheduled for appointments.

“They really expect that when a veteran wants to be seen, he’s seen,” said Moschitta, whose facility last year served 31,897 veterans with 409,224 appointments — a workload that increased in each year of his tenure.

Meeting that demand is yet another challenge, he said.

“But I’m proud of our community-based clinics that allow us to have the whole Island covered. That, and our patient-centered focus.”

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