The new leadership at the reigns of the 90-year-old Northport VA Medical Center has unveiled a three-year plan aimed at making $21 million in repairs to address critical infrastructural and staffing concerns.
Director Scott Guermonprez said since taking up the position in June 2017, he has drafted together a plan that looks to address the out-of-date utilities systems and crumbling buildings that led to the closure of its homeless veterans housing in January, and a brief shutdown of its operating rooms in February.
““We have to figure out how we focus on the resources we have and use them as quickly and prudently as possible.”
– Scott Guermonprez
“There was a facility condition assessment done last year that came out that said if we were to try to fully rehabilitate the entire campus it would cost more than $450 million, or to try to build a new one would cost more than $1 billion,” Guermonprez said. “We have to figure out how we focus on the resources we have and use them as quickly and prudently as possible.”
There are approximately $7 million in projects getting underway this year, according to the director, which includes replacing four of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units of the main medical center as well as a new roof.
The VA director said they had also received approximately $1.1 million to renovate the homeless veterans shelter, run by the nonprofit Beacon House, with new ductwork and an electronically controlled heating and cooling system. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, according to Guermonprez.
The director said the three-year plan also calls for hiring 40 additional engineering and trade staff to oversee maintenance and upkeep of the 71-building campus under its new Chief Engineer Oscar Prue.
“[Prue] has been very successful in overseeing a large number of projects over multiple years and multiple locations,” Guermonprez said, noting he’s worked on VA medical centers in Albany and Syracuse.
“While this VA has plenty of work ahead of them, I am confident that they have a plan and are moving in the right direction…”
– Tom Suozzi
The first major project Prue is expected to tackle is the demolition of long-abandoned Buildings 1 and 2 which housed the facility’s original hospital, standing opposite the current medical center.
“It’s an eyesore,” the director said. “One of the biggest complaints we’ve had with Northport is insufficient parking. When it was built nearly 40 years ago, the intent was to demolish those buildings. It never happened.”
He anticipates the Department of Veterans Affairs will give him clearance to move forward shortly, with demolition tentatively scheduled to start in the late fall. These two of the 428 buildings nationwide the Veterans Administration has plans to demolish or repurpose. The space cleared will be converted to additional parking space for the medical center, allowing a few hundred spaces to be added.
“We want to add valet parking,” Guermonprez said. “We have the largest number of veterans over 80 years old in the New York-New Jersey health care system. We want to make it easier for them.”
Adding more parking and upgrading the heating and cooling systems will allow Northport VA to consolidate its medical treatment services into the medical center. Currently some programs like the outpatient mental health services and opthamology are in outlying buildings.
“[W]e are expanding police services given the unfortunate incidents occurring across the nation with shootings as we want to keep our veterans safe.
– Colleen Luckner
“While this VA has plenty of work ahead of them, I am confident that they have a plan and are moving in the right direction to ultimately upgrade and restore these facilities so that they can properly serve and honor our veterans here and in the community,” Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said after touring the VA facility with the director in late April.
Other key components of the VA’s three-year plan include replacing the campus’s steam vents and expanding its security force to deal with modern threats, said Colleen Luckner, associate director of Northport VA.
“In addition to the construction projects, we are expanding police services given the unfortunate incidents occurring across the nation with shootings as we want to keep our veterans safe,” Luckner said.
The Northport VA will be hiring on additional staff for its police department as well as implementing new systems such as additional cameras, panic alarms and other such measures.
Later this year, the Northport VA expects to celebrate the grand opening of expansion of its Riverhead outpatient clinic to include more physical therapy space and hearing services in July, before adding physical therapy, occupational therapy and more services to its Patchogue location.