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Northport VA hospital’s troubles focus of House panel hearing

Philip Moschitta, director of the Northport Veterans Affairs

Philip Moschitta, director of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, speaks at a congressional hearing at the center on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee grilled administrators of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center over whistleblower allegations about myriad deficiencies at the Northport facility and a veteran suicide on its grounds in August.

The committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), asked hospital officials about allegations of unaccounted-for deaths at the facility, dangerously inadequate maintenance, poor air quality in patient areas and broken air chillers, which could cost the facility $2.8 million to rent temporary units until a permanent fix is made.

Miller also questioned VA officials over allegations that a patient outreach program was actually a scheme to pad Northport’s client base, “improperly” giving the facility access to $4,200 per contact.

“All of these problems have been brought to the attention of the committee by conscientious whistleblowers who, after seeing no action from their supervisors, made the correct decision to inform the public and Congress of the unsafe conditions that exist at this facility,” Miller said during the two-hour hearing Tuesday at the Northport medical center.

Hospital Director Philip Moschitta pushed back against the allegations, saying investigations by outside agencies did not show shortfalls at Northport in relation to the three deaths about which the committee had questions. Moschitta also said the outreach program was a legitimate effort to ensure that patients in danger of falling through the cracks got the care they needed.

Miller convened the Northport hearing at the urging of members of the Long Island congressional delegation. All attended except Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who said he had a scheduling conflict.

Members of Congress have expressed increasing concern after hospital officials kept them in the dark for three months about the suspension of surgeries because of contaminated operating room air-conditioning ducts at the Northport facility.

Their alarm heightened after Peter A. Kaisen, 76, of Islip killed himself in the hospital parking lot Aug. 21, possibly after seeking care on a walk-in basis. After the hearing, Miller spoke to Kaisen’s widow, Joan Kaisen, who has said frustration over her husband’s inability to be seen by hospital staff in a timely manner may have contributed to his death.

Miller said he continued to hold doubts about some aspects of how Northport was run, including questions over the operation of the patient outreach program.

“It appears they were using it to fill budget holes, and that’s not the intent,” said Miller, who said the committee would continue its investigation of the allegations to determine whether any of them were warranted.

But Miller, who at one point during the hearing asked for a show of hands from among the dozens of veteran attendees to show whether they approved of how Northport is being run, said he came away somewhat satisfied by the answers he received from Northport officials.

“The interesting thing here is that more folks seem to be satisfied with their health care at this facility than not,” he said, referring to the show of hands. “So we need to drill in and find out why some folks are not satisfied.”

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