The head of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs came to Long Island for an up-close look at the troubled Northport VA Medical Center Thursday, saying the facility should “find the right size” to address maintenance problems straining its budget and impacting patient care.
“That’s the challenge we have, is how to provide the most economic care because money is not infinite, it is finite and budgets are tight,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn).
Roe said he decided to visit the medical center because of reports of serious probems with maintenance at the nearly 90-year-old facility.
Roe, a physician himself, said Northport would benefit from centralizing its operations into a few core buildings, as well as pushing more of its clinical operations into satellite facilities scattered across Long Island.
The lawmaker spent about three hours touring the Northport facility, which includes more than 70 buildings, including dozens that are mostly unused. Roe was acccompanied by Reps. Thomas Suozzi, (D-Glen Cove) and Lee Zeldin, (R-Shirley), and Northport director Scott Guermonprez — all of whom said they could support the concept of consolidation.
Thursday’s congressional visit also came on the heels of two internal VA investigations which concluded that repeated lapses in the facility’s engineering department led to a host of problems at Northport.
Among those problems was the failure of an air-conditioning unit at Northport’s main hospital building, which forced a months-long closure of its surgical facility, and meant that veterans requiring emergency surgery had to seek treatment at VA hospitals in Manhattan or the Bronx.
The reports also concluded that the failings of the engineering department at Northport were a financial drain on a facility already struggling against recent budgetary shortfalls.
Northport has long been viewed with near reverential regard among the area’s roughly 140,000 veterans, who typically laud its medical care for its quality and availability.
But in the past two years, veteran leaders have expressed increasing alarm over the physical condition of the medical center.
Hutch DuBosque, president of the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport, whose members use the facility for self-care meetings, said mold caused by leaking roofs and frequently-flooded underground walkways has forced his group to move therapy sessions because of respiratory distress twice in the past three months.
“Our concern is the toxic environment,” said DuBosque. “A lot of us older guys have respiratory problems, and we can’t take this stuff.”
Guermonprez, a retired Air Force officer to came on as Northport’s new director in late June, expressed agreement that some of Northport’s maintenance problems could be mitigatged by consolidating to fewer buildings.
Roe said he was encouraged that Guermonprez had initiated staffing changes in the leadership of Northport’s engineering, nursing and medical staff.
“I think he is headed in the right direction,” Roe said.