Northport, NY - May 25, 2016 - Representatives Steve Israel (NY-03), Peter King (NY-02), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), and Lee Zeldin (NY-01) sent a bipartisan letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald calling on him to address the deteriorating conditions at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).
Recent reports have indicated that an aging ventilation system has caused harmful particles to collect on medical instruments in five operating rooms at the Northport VAMC. Due to the health risks associated with the particles, the entire surgical unit has been closed for more than two months, forcing Long Island veterans to travel elsewhere to receive surgical care.
“Long Island veterans must have access to quality healthcare and medical facilities,” said Rep. Steve Israel (NY-03). “The reported operating room closures at the Northport V.A. are troubling and we need answers on what’s being done. That is why I am leading this bipartisan letter with my Long Island colleagues to request specific information on how many veterans have been impacted and what steps need to be taken to reopen these operating rooms and ensure the safety of patients and staff throughout the facility.”
“We’re not talking about athlete’s foot here,” said Rep. Peter King (NY-02). “This is a serious situation. If a veterans hospital can’t provide surgery, the public needs answers.”
“With only one VA hospital on Long Island and one of the largest veteran populations in the country, we can’t let these operating rooms stay closed while veterans in need of surgical care are forced to go elsewhere or delay their treatment,” said Representative Kathleen Rice, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I have no doubt that officials at the Northport VA are eager to reopen these rooms as soon as possible, and every member of this delegation is ready to do whatever it takes to help make that happen. That’s why we’re urging the VA to give us this information so that we know the full scope of the problem, exactly what must be done to fix it, and how long it will take.”
“The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to immediately fix whatever issues exist that are keeping the Operating Rooms closed at the Northport VA.,” said Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01), member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Failure is not an option. It’s also completely inexcusable that the VA never came to the Long Island congressional delegation to inform us of this situation and ask for assistance over the course of these past few months while these issues have lingered. This is an inexcusable failure for Long Island veterans. The entire Long Island delegation agrees that our veterans deserve better, which is why we look forward to a quick response from the VA and an aggressive achievement of an immediate and long term solution."
In February, the Northport VAMC suspended all surgical procedures involving incisions and open wounds after detecting sand-sized particles that had accumulated in some of the facility’s operating rooms. Newsday reported that since February, 117 veterans have had to reschedule surgeries at the facility. 69 of these veterans elected to receive their treatment at other facilities and 48 chose to postpone their surgeries until operations resume at Northport VAMC.
The full text of the delegation’s letter can be found below:
May 25, 2016
The Honorable Robert A. McDonald
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald,
We are very concerned about reports of deteriorating conditions at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Northport, New York. As you know, Long Island is home to a significant veteran population and constituents from our combined four Congressional Districts have all sought care at the Northport VAMC. We believe these veterans deserve the best care available and want to make certain the staff at the Northport VAMC have the resources necessary to care for them.
Reports indicate that operating rooms have closed, but the Northport VAMC director indicated publicly that one operating room may reopen next month. Meanwhile, patients requiring urgent operations have been sent elsewhere in New York, an inconvenience our nation’s veterans should not have to bear. With no indication of when the additional operating rooms will reopen, immediate action must be taken to fix these issues and provide our veterans with high quality care.
We are writing today to draw your attention to this matter and to request information regarding how many veterans across Long Island have been impacted by these issues at the Northport VAMC, what steps will be taken to reopen the operating rooms and ensure the safety of patients and staff throughout the facility, and how long you expect these actions to take. The Northport VAMC serves thousands of veterans in our districts and these veterans deserve the highest level of care available. This is a standard that should be applied throughout the entire country at every single VAMC.
We appreciate your assistance with this matter and commend your commitment to American veterans. We look forward to your timely response.