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VA interim director Cruise returns to previously held position at medical center

Interim Northport VA Medical Center Director Cathy Cruise

Interim Northport VA Medical Center Director Cathy Cruise said she is returning to a previously held position as the new director takes the helm on Monday. Photo Credit: Newsday/Martin Evans

Dr. Cathy Cruise, who led the federal Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Northport for almost a year as its interim director, announced she will go back to a previously held position as Northport’s chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Dr. Antonio Sanchez, the chief of staff of the VA Caribbean Healthcare System based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was named Northport’s new director in May, and will assume his duties on Monday.

“Together, we have made meaningful progress toward making this hospital the pride of Long Island and, under Dr. Sanchez’s leadership, I am confident there are many improvements ahead,” Cruise said in a statement emailed to Northport’s roughly 1,800 employees Friday.

 “It is an honor to serve among you, and your dedication and commitment to our veterans has remained a source of constant inspiration,” Cruise said.

Cruise, a Huntington native, became Northport's interim director last July. The prior director, Scott Guermonprez, had resigned one year after coming to Northport from the VA medical center in Albany.

Cruise will also relinquish her position as Northport’s acting chief of staff, a position she assumed during a personnel shake-up that took place two years ago when Guermonprez became Northport’s director.

When Cruise was named to the position last July, Northport was facing myriad problems, including shortages of nurses and other key staff, frequent equipment failures that forced the suspension of some services, and high turnover among key administrators.

Northport was forced to close a homeless shelter on its campus after the heating system went out in January, 2018. A month later, the hospital had to shut down all five of its operating rooms to repair the air conditioning. The homeless shelter is still closed and isn't expected to open until the fall.

And since 2016, when Cruise arrived from the VA’s New York regional office, Northport has had four medical center directors, three chiefs of staff and three nursing department directors. Its chief of engineering and its director of human resources also left during that period. And an internal survey of employee attitudes taken two years ago produced complaints of administrative bullying, forced overtime, job intimidation, and low morale.

But Cruise is credited with having exuded a calming presence in her year at the top, winning praise from veterans leaders.

Morris Miller, president of an advisory panel for voluntary services at Northport, praised Cruise for having replaced tension and uncertainty with a more welcoming atmosphere. Miller said he was surprised and disappointed that Cruise was not retained as the facility’s chief of staff, which oversees medical care.

“She’s the kind of person who, outside of Joe Sledge, no one cares more for veterans on Long Island,” Morris said, referring to a Northport administrator who does community outreach. “You could see the morale had gotten much better."

Northport spokesman Levi Spellman said Cruise would not comment for this article.

“I want to thank all of you for hard work, encouragement, and support over the last two years,” Cruise said in the email. “It is an honor to serve among you.”

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