Northport VA care services would face steep cuts under the plan

The Northport VA would close its emergency room, move medical and surgical services to local hospitals and move its residential rehabilitation program to southeast Queens under a proposal launched by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The plan, outlined in an 82-page report on the Northeast by the VA Assets and Infrastructure Review Board, would eliminate most of the care currently provided on the sprawling 268-acre Northport VA Medical Center campus, leaving only skeletal services, including mental health inpatients. health, nursing home care and rehabilitation medicine.

Urgent care services would move to a new outpatient clinic in Commack.

The plan was immediately rejected by lawmakers and local veterans groups.

“We are disappointed to learn of the plans for the used Northport VA and not have the opportunity to participate,” said William McKenna Sr., Commanding Officer of the Northport American Legion. “We continue to believe that the Northport VA is an integral part of the care and support for our veterinarians and their families.”

The commission, which reviewed VA facilities across the country, said the plan was necessary to meet changing patient demands for Long Island’s roughly 100,000 veterans while avoiding more than $600 million in repairs. needed for Northport VA’s century-old facility.

“The Long Island market is facing a sharp drop in listings,” the report said. “Demand for inpatient services is decreasing, while outpatient demand is increasing. There is a need to invest in the ongoing community living center, inpatient mental health, and outpatient service needs of the veteran population of Long Island.”

In a statement, the VA said proposed changes to Long Island’s only veterans hospital are years away from potential implementation.

“It is important to note that all recommendations to the upcoming AIR Commission are just that – recommendations,” VA spokesperson Terrence Hayes said. “Nothing changes now for veterans’ access to care or VA employees.”

Any potential changes to VA’s health care infrastructure may be years away and are dependent on the decisions of the Board, the President, and Congress, as well as strong stakeholder engagement and planning,” a- he added. “In the long term, the recommendations of the AIR could have an impact on VHA installations. and staff, but it is too early to know exactly what these impacts might be or where they might occur. »

Federal lawmakers opposed the plan, arguing that the VA never consulted with them or local veterans groups.

“We are not closing or diminishing the Northport VA,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Newsday. “If anything, it needs more help and dollars to make it better, not to cut it or end it. And I’ll do whatever I can, using my power as Majority Leader , to keep Northport at full strength.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose district includes Northport VA, said the changes made little sense. Northport, he said, plans to rebuild its emergency room and is spending millions to upgrade its aging HVAC system.

“I’m all for planning for the future,” gubernatorial candidate Suozzi said. “…But it has to be a collaborative effort, not something dictated by Washington, DC without local knowledge.

In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, Suozzi said Long Island veterans are disproportionately older than the national veteran population and need the “practical and comprehensive care provided by the Northport VAMC.” .

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an Army veteran also running for governor, said ‘cutting essential services, without convenient and reliable replacements, would be devastating for people who have been willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of our nation. I will do everything in my power to prevent this from happening.”

The VA projects, based on recent data trends, that demand on Long Island for hospital medical and surgical services will decline 17.5% through 2029, while demands for mental health and care services long-term inpatients would decrease by approximately 9% and 11%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the demand for outpatient services, including primary care, mental health, dental care and rehabilitation therapies, is expected to increase, according to the report.

The commission suggests rebuilding Northport as a campus for patients who no longer need daily invasive services but need more intensive care than that provided in skilled nursing facilities.

The changes “will improve the quality and efficiency of health care delivery for the registered population and reduce the need for costly repairs to site conditions and mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems,” the report said.

Residential rehab treatment would shift to the St. Albans VAMC, located 42 miles west of Queens, with programs focused on substance use disorders, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. ‘roaming.

The Northport ER would close, with patients being directed to NYU Langone in Mineola and Stony Brook University Hospital to the east. Northport, according to the report, saw a 17% drop in emergency room visits in 2019.

A VA-run “community multi-specialty outpatient clinic,” which provides typical outpatient services, including health and wellness visits, would open near Commack,” the report said.

Treatment for veterans for spinal cord injuries would be moved to a facility in the Bronx, while the closest location with blind inpatient rehabilitation would be West Haven, Connecticut, the commission said.

Jim Beecher, former Suffolk American Legion county commander, said the plan “makes little sense” and is unlikely to gain support from local veterans.

“Northport has a unique advantage in that it’s a one-stop-shop,” Beecher said. “It’s all there. It’s very early days and it’s going to be challenged and scrutinized in 100 different ways before anything is done.”

Problems at Northport VA, which cares for about 31,000 veterans a year, have drawn increasing attention since 2016, when the failure of air conditioning equipment in the WWII-era hospital building Vietnam War forced a four-month suspension of all surgeries, sending veterans to get emergency surgery. proceedings in Manhattan or the Bronx.

Northport has also undergone several management changes, with former administrators leaving many infrastructure projects unfinished, forcing the facility to forfeit repair dollars. A 2017 internal VA investigation concluded that poor contractor oversight resulted in incomplete projects costing Northport more than $9 million in federal funding.

The plan proposed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs Assets and Infrastructure Review Board:

  • Shut down the Northport VA emergency room, sending patients to local hospitals including Stony Brook and NYU Langone.

  • Move all residential rehabilitation treatment in Northport to St. Albans VA Medical Center 42 miles west.

  • Transition of ambulatory and emergency care services from Northport to a new facility in Commack.

  • The Northport VA would continue to provide inpatient mental health, residential nursing and rehabilitation medicine services.

Source: VA Assets and Infrastructure Review Board

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