Veterans

Huntington residents gathered in the blustery cold Sunday morning to pay solemn remembrance to those who have served our country.

The Town of Huntington held its annual Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11 at 9 a.m. in Veterans Plaza on the front lawn of Huntington Town Hall in order to honor local veterans and those across the nation. Bill Ober, chairman of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, served as this year’s master of ceremonies.

“We are celebrating the service of our veterans on the Centennial of the World War I Armistice, which occurred at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the incessant boom of artillery abruptly went silent along the Western Front in France,”  Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Lupinacci said that the town was recently contacted by the family of Walter Marshall, a service member from the Town of Huntington who served in World War I, whose name is in the process of being added to the World War I memorial plaque inside Town Hall.

“On Veterans Day we recognize, honor and thank the brave men and women who have served in our Nation’s armed forces,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “We must always remember their sacrifice in the name of our freedom not only on Nov. 11 but also on the other 364 days of the year.”

There are approximately 8,500 veterans living in the township, according to Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D). One of whom is a member of the town board.

“It is humbling to stand amongst other veterans who live in Huntington,” Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said. “It was an honor and a privilege to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve. The Corps has done far more for me than I could ever do for the Corps.”

Kings Park veteran Ernie Lanzer, on right, with his daughter, Claire, wrapped in his Quilt of Valor. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Nearly 70 years later, a Kings Park resident has been recognized for his service in World War II for the first time.

At roughly 12:05 p.m. Oct. 19, former Setauket residents Linda and Larry Heinz presented U.S. Navy vet
Ernie Lanzer with a Quilt of Valor to honor his service to his country. Now 91 years old, Lanzer recounted his time in the service as he was wrapped in the 80-inch by 60-inch handmade blanket in the colors of red, white and blue.

Ernie Lanzer dressed in his U.S. Navy uniform circa World War II. Photo from Claire Lanzer

“That was a lifetime ago, it’s ancient history,” he said humbly. “I was only a kid when I went in, 17, maybe 18.”

Lanzer said he registered under the draft and been called to serve near the end of World War II. He recalled fondly his assignment to the U.S.S. Antietam, an Essex-class aircraft carrier, as first-class seaman with the title of aviation machinist mate. His ship was stationed in waters off China and Japan during the period of occupation following the war.

“It really got my life started with aircraft; I went from fixing propellers to working on F-105, a real modern-day jet bomber,” Lanzer said.

Upon leaving the U.S. Navy, he worked on various planes for Farmingdale-based Republic Aviation. In 1961, he would continue to build a legacy of service by joining Engine Company #2 of the Kings Park Fire Department. Lanzer rose up the ranks of the firehouse, serving as fire commissioner from 2000 to 2006.

While recognized by the Kings Park Fire Department for more than 50 years of service in 2010, Lanzer said he doesn’t remember ever being thanked for serving his country before.

“We consider it a privilege to honor you,” his certificate from the Quilts of Valor Foundation reads. “Though we may never know the extent of your sacrifice and services to protect and defend the United States of America, as an expression of gratitude we award you this Quilt of Valor.”

Ernie Lanzer’s Quilt of Valor as boxed up and shipped from former Setauket resident Linda Heinz. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Heinz said she requested a quilt be made to recognize Lanzer for his legacy both of service to his country and community after she joined with the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “cover” all service members and veterans who are physically or psychologically wounded. It started in November 2003 when a quilt was presented to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg serving in Iraq, according to its website.

“It’s to give them comfort,” she said. “A handmade quilt will always give you comfort no matter who you are.”

Heinz is a member of a volunteer group that calls itself The Myrtle Beach Shore Birds, a group of quilters that has taken up the mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation. Together, they presented 33 quilts to veterans at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base July 3 and have made more than 1,400 such gifts since 2010.

There is no charge for a quilt and the organization openly accepts requests at www.qovf.org. The website also provides information for those willing to volunteer their time to make the quilts by supplying patterns and guidance.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Since Rocky Point High School was built in 1971, its graduates have gone on to become musicians, scientists, college athletes and more; but many also have gone into the armed services.

Now, the Rocky Point school district is looking to show its appreciation for those graduates turned veterans by creating a new Wall of Honor featuring the faces of close to 60 men and women who made the choice to serve after high school.

“We recognize the students for so many different things throughout the school year, whether it be academics, sports-related accomplishments, clubs — and this is just one thing that it’s nice to recognize these students for all they’ve done for our country,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

Crossan had seen similar walls in other school districts such as Longwood and Comsewogue and said she figured it was time her school also honored its homegrown veterans. She originally pitched the idea to a number of history teachers at the high school, including Jamie Mancini and Heather Laughlin-Cotter, who came to appreciate the idea very quickly she said, though it was high school social studies teacher Richard Acritelli, himself a nine-year army reservist veteran, who truly picked up the idea and ran with it.

“Rocky Point is a blue-collar area with a lot of men and women in the service community, a lot of policemen, firemen and many who served in the armed services,” Acritelli said. “We have strong ties to the defense of this country.”

Since spring, many Rocky Point teachers and students worked together in an effort to find and contact the district’s veterans. Acritelli said it was a balancing act, doing their best to get students who attended Rocky Point High School many years ago in addition to ones who only graduated recently.

“We have a variety of veterans up on the wall, such as those in military academies, those who served in the Cold War, those in the War on Terror, young people in ROTC programs, and those who literally just left the school,” Acritelli said. “In a short period of time — with the number of names we were able to get compiled — it’s going to be really tastefully done.”

Acritelli said almost all funding was provided by local sponsors, including the Rocky Point Teachers Association, the Rocky Point Athletic Booster Club, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the nonprofit Feal Good Foundation.

The wall is being constructed by Ronkonkoma-based Fricke Memorials, and each plaque will include a picture of the veteran, their name, rank and branch of armed service. Along with the plaques the wall will include black granite etchings and bronze emblems representing each military branch.

Some of the Rocky Point graduates named on the upcoming wall go back more than 50 years, before Rocky Point High School even existed, when students who graduated from the middle school instead traveled all the way to Port Jefferson to finish their education. Crossan said she expects more names to be added to the wall as the news of it in the community spreads.

“It’s very important that we show loyalty to the students who have served, that they know that their school has recognized their services at home and abroad,” Acritelli said.

The Wall of Honor will be located just to the right of the main entrance to the high school past the main auditorium entrance.

Crossan said the wall will be installed this coming weekend, and all plaques will be put up on the wall Nov. 12. The school will be hosting a school assembly celebrating Veterans Day Nov. 16, which will be followed by an unveiling of the wall.

by -
0 303
Les Paldy, 84, takes on the Marine’s Leadership Reaction Course in Quantico. Photo from Jefferson's Ferry

As told to Cathy DeAngelo, vice president of sales and marketing, Jefferson’s Ferry.

Les Paldy is not your average 84-year-old. The Jefferson’s Ferry resident and distinguished service professor emeritus at Stony Brook University has spent more than 50 years teaching in the departments of technology and society, physics, political science and the university’s Honors College. While Paldy has retired, teaching only one class each semester and living with his wife Judy, a retired Three Village Central School District science teacher, in a two-bedroom cottage at Jefferson’s Ferry, he keeps a busy schedule.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive. Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy, a former Marine infantry and intelligence officer and Korean War veteran, was recently invited to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, to observe current Marine officer candidate training during the Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s 2018 Educators and Key Leaders Workshop. He wound up participating at a level he hadn’t anticipated.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive,” Paldy said. “Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers. On this visit I was assigned to a four-member team given the opportunity to attempt the Leadership Reaction Course involving a set of physical obstacles. The team leader must make a team plan and execute it within a time limit. Marine officer instructors observe to rate the leader and team.”

Paldy said the goal was to retrieve a wounded Marine supposedly held captive by hostiles.

“The physical obstacles consisted of two 8-foot-high platforms separated by a 5-foot gap,” Paldy said. “The team had to scale a wall to the first platform, crawl through a section of conduit pipe, bridge the gap to the second platform and climb down to retrieve the stretcher-borne Marine. Then the team would have to reverse course, re-cross the gap with the wounded Marine on the stretcher, and then lower him to the ground from the first platform. The team had only an 8-foot plank and a short length of rope to work with.”

Paldy volunteered to lead.

“With a separated shoulder and replaced knee, I had planned to stay at the base of the first platform to help lower the casualty to the ground,” Paldy said. “I had no intention of attempting the climbs and gap traversals but one of my teammates was clearly hesitating. It was obvious that we needed three persons to climb up and over to retrieve the wounded Marine. Someone else would have to be the third climber and that person would have to be me.”

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy scaled the first wall, bridged the gap between platforms with the plank, and had almost crossed it before losing his balance, falling 8 feet to the ground and becoming a real casualty.

“Probably poor judgment to try it,” he said, “but I didn’t see any alternative.”

He said he gave himself a C-minus for the effort. Course instructors told him he may have the distinction — “dubious,” he said — of being the oldest person to have tried to run the Marine Corps Leadership Reaction Course.

When Paldy is not climbing walls in Marine officer training, he consults with Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Nonproliferation and National Security Department and volunteers as a professor in the Department of Pathology, working to connect Stony Brook medical and engineering researchers with their counterparts at national laboratories and the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut.

“This Navy lab is the world’s premier research center for submarine medical research, focusing on ways to maintain the health of submarine crews, dedicated men and women whose submarines may stay submerged for months,” Paldy said. “Navy and Stony Brook researchers have exchanged visits and gone aboard attack submarines to discuss possible collaboration.”

He also makes a study of nuclear weapons proliferation and other global concerns and this fall will lead a senior seminar in Stony Brook’s Honors College.

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us,” Paldy said. “The university gives me the freedom to work on interesting things with the support of faculty colleagues and professional and civil service staffers who make the university run. No one could ask for more. With some luck, I’ll keep doing it.”

Sheldon Polan, above center, with his son Andy Polan, left, and Fred Sganga, executive director of the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, during one of his weekly visits to the home. Photo from Andy Polan

One World War II veteran’s weekly visit to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook is not about using its services — it’s about his passion for helping.

Sheldon Polan in uniform. Photo from Andy Polan

Sheldon Polan, who retired from his career as a full-time optician in 1987, visits veterans at the home every Thursday to measure and fit patients for glasses and adjust the spectacles when they come in.

The Selden resident, who turns 91 Nov. 10, said he’s been helping out at the home for seven years through his son Andy Polan’s business, Stony Brook Vision World, which is an affiliated practitioner of the veterans home.

“One day Andy says to me, ‘Dad, I can’t get over there — maybe you can help to bail me out,’” Sheldon Polan said.

The number of patients the optician sees varies from one or two to seven or eight depending on the day. When it comes to interacting with his fellow veterans, Polan, who served his time at West Point, said he enjoys talking to them about their military experiences.

“It gives you a common ground,” the optician said. “It kind of relaxes them too. It’s not ‘What are you going to do next.’”

Recently, the elder Polan took 20 examinations to renew his license, which is now valid for three more years. Through the decades, he’s seen a lot of advances in eyeglasses, including eyewear going from thick glass, where eyeglass wearers felt like they were wearing Coke bottles, to lighter plastics.

Polan said he occasionally helps his son out at Stony Brook Vision World, relieving some of the rigors of business ownership. Andy Polan is the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and a former president of his synagogue.

Being an optician wasn’t the veteran’s original career plan though. He said he was making a good living working for a large gas station in Brooklyn after the war, but freezing temperatures in the winter made it difficult to work sometimes. His brother, who was an optician, suggested he go to college to learn to become one.

“I went into the school, I liked what I saw, and I persevered,” he said.

“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents.”

— Fred Sganga

Polan went on to work for 30 years with Dr. Norman Stahl in Garden City, who was the founder of Stahl Eyecare Experts, one of the first ophthalmologist offices in New York to use LASIK surgery when it became available in America in the ’90s.

Andy Polan said his father is a big help to him not only assisting at Stony Brook Vision World and at the veterans home but also making house calls when he can’t.

“I’m honored to have that,” the son said. “I’m luckier than a lot of people that my father at this age is able to still be very vital and helpful.”

Father and son both said they feel residents are fortunate to have the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook nearby.

“My dad is proud of what he sees over at the vets’ hospital,” Andy Polan said, adding that while many other veterans homes receive negative publicity, Long Island State Veterans Home executive director, Fred Sganga, goes above and beyond to make sure his patients are taken care of properly.

The respect is mutual. Sganga said it’s clear Polan loves to work with his fellow veterans.

“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents,” Sganga said. “Sheldon’s optometry skills combined with his caring personality make him a welcome addition to our home. We salute him for his ageless abilities and his passion to serve his fellow veterans.”

Sheldon Polan said visiting veterans, where even a simple greeting means a lot to them, is important.

“Once I saw what I was giving to them and what I was getting back, I was hooked,” the optician said. “You got to feel for these people.”

Huntington town officials, members of Veterans of War Post 1469 and Lipsky Construction representatives celebrate the official groundbreaking on a veterans housing complex in Huntington Station Oct. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Columbia Terrace veterans affordable housing project, which has been promised for close to eight years, might be finally coming to fruition.

Town of Huntington officials, members of the Huntington Community Development Agency (CDA) and members of the local Veterans of Foreign War Post 1469 joined Bayport-based Lipsky Construction Oct. 30 to celebrate the start of the project’s construction.

Huntington Station has been waiting decades for neighborhood and economic revitalization, which over the past several years is beginning to mobilize,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Our veterans and their families make many sacrifices to keep them safe, and we owe them the opportunity and ability for owning a home they can live in.”

Our veterans and their families make many sacrifices to keep them safe, and we owe them the opportunity and ability for owning a home they can live in.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The new development features 14 apartments at the corner of Lowndes Avenue and Railroad Street in Huntington Station. It consist of six, one-bedroom units and eight, two-bedroom condo-style apartments, according to CDA Director Leah Jefferson.

The project was put out to bid again in June with a budget of approximately $3.5 million, Jefferson said. Lipsky Construction was the lowest bidder and a contract signed in September. The project is expected to be completed within 300 days, and have all units sold and occupied by Sept. 30, 2019.

“When I heard it about veterans, I took extra steps to make sure we got on the project,” said Barry Lipsky, the president of Lipsky Construction.“It’s a matter of how much to give back.”

The costs of the units will be offered at 80 percent of the Nassau-Suffolk median income, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. The one-bedroom apartments  starting at $200,000.

The veterans housing project was first proposed back in 2010, according to Lupinacci. That same year, the CDA was awarded $1.56 million grant from the New York’s Empire State Economic Development Fund Program. An additional $2 million dollars were borrowed by the town from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund And Agency Fund for the sake of the project, which will be paid back upon the sale of the apartments. Interim funding has been secured by Huntington’s elected officials through People’s United Bank in the form of a construction loan.

“What I found out over the years, veterans don’t ask for a lot. They’re not banging on doors saying ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.” 

— Rick Seryneck

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), former director of the town’s CDA, said one of challenges has been  rising costs compared to the amount of grant funding available.

The town has also secured $250,000 in funds from the county to go toward road realignment, curbing and street lighting, which Lupinacci said would be installed after construction is finished.

The supervisor said a lottery will be held to fill the apartments closer to the project’s completion.

Rick Serynek, a member of the Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, said he knows veterans who could make use of affordable housing. He said  many of those who have served are not the type to ask for help, even if they need it.

“What I found out over the years, veterans don’t ask for a lot. They’re not banging on doors saying ‘gimme, gimme, gimme,” Serynek said. “All they want is a fair shake.”

by -
0 729

Contractors volunteer time, supplies needed renovate Nesconset Plaza shopping center storefront

Veteran Henry Stolberg, far left, greet others inside Paws of War’s new Nesconset location. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nesconset nonprofit Paws of War is busy wagging their tails, happy to have a brand-new dog house.

With the aid of local contractors, the nonprofit organization, which supplies and helps train service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illness, has now moved to a new location that features more space for dog training and new room for grooming.

Robert Misseri, president of Paws of War, said when they opened the old space a year ago it quickly became apparent the size of the location was simply not enough to cover how many retired service members were coming to them for help.

“There was an explosion of needs — with constant referrals by [Veterans Affairs], and we realized we needed to expand and expand quick,” Misseri said.

There was an explosion of needs — with constant referrals by [Veterans Affairs], and we realized we needed to expand and expand quick.”

— Robert Misseri

Paws of War is now at a location just a few stores down in the Nesconset Plaza shopping center from their previous storefront, but the space is double that of what they previously had. It includes twice the floor space for dog training as well as a backroom area that Misseri said is planned to be used for dog grooming and care.

Henry Stolberg, a marine veteran and volunteer for Paws of War, said that since getting his dog, a black Labrador named Rocky, life has become so much easier to bear. Rocky was trained in a partnership with Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank that allowed a veteran inmate named Jermaine to help train the dog for Stolberg.

“Now he goes everywhere with me,” Stolberg said. “Rocky can break me out of nightmares at night, if I have anxiety attacks, he will put his pressure on me, and when I get angry, he will pick up on it and he’ll alert me that I have to calm down.”

When Paws of War originally announced their intent to move into a new space, Misseri worried about finding a way to furnish and remodel what had once been a Dollar Store, where the carpet and walls were worn down with misuse and age. Luckily Ed Rollins, the owner of NDA Kitchens, a local Nesconset contractor, along with a number of subcontractors, all stepped up to help supply all the labor and materials completely free for the nonprofit.

“They showed me the space and it was disgusting … [Misseri] was telling me what they need, walking around in circles, and I turned to him and said ‘Rob, I got this,’” Rollins said. “Everybody, all the subcontractors, said the same thing I did: ‘dogs and veterans? I’m in.’”

Feds recommend trio of changes in staffing, hiring and overtime management to facility’s new leadership

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

A federal investigation into Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s four community living centers has shown a troubling trend of chronic nursing staff shortages and excessive overtime, issues that could have placed patients “at a higher risk for adverse events.”

In one case, federal investigators found a nurse’s assistant worked double shifts for six straight days — more than 96 hours in a single week – while expected to diligently oversee a patient requiring one-on-one care.

As the Northport facility is the only VA Medical Center on Long Island it serves more than 31,000 patients per year and oversees several outpatient clinical sites. Its four nursing homes are located in two buildings, with an approximate capacity of 170 beds.

The Office of Inspector General, a division of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, charged with independent oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs programs, received several anonymous complaints about the quality of care received at Northport VAMC in 2017 following the deaths of two patients.

In September 2017, the OIG launched a year-long investigation into staffing shortages after receiving two further emails: the first from an employee at Northport VAMC, the second from a liaison to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The investigation produced a Sept. 18 report (click here to read the full report) that found Northport VAMC’s leadership knew about the staff shortages, forced administrative level nurses to care for patients, and yet still continued to accept new patients despite knowing they wouldn’t have the staff needed to provide the expected level of care.

Federal investigators recognized in August 2017 there was significant turnover in the leadership at the Northport VAMC, affecting key positions such as its director, acting chief of staff and acting nurse executive, who were cited “as catalysts for this change.” Staff members’ remarks indicated it’s given them hope for a better future.

The agency recommended a series of changes for the Northport VAMC pertaining to the nursing staff currently being enacted, and the facility says is bringing immediate tangible results.

Two patient deaths

Anonymous complaints about two patient deaths at the Northport VAMC in 2017 started the series of federal investigations into the facility.

The first death was a male patient in his late 60s who died as a result of choking on his food. Federal inspectors found insufficient evidence the man’s death was due to a lack of nurse oversight, as alleged in the complaints, but did conclude Northport VAMC had ongoing challenges in maintaining basic necessary staffing levels.

“Conditions such as staffing shortages could create an environment where the increased workload assigned to each staff member was such that it became more difficult to remain vigilant,” the report reads.

A forum was held for the Northport VA nursing homes staff to voice their concerns with the facility and its operation while an investigation of the first patient’s death was ongoing.

“Many [staff members] shared a concern about staffing levels being too low,” the report reads.

A second death raised claims of poor quality of care in the Northport vets nursing homes, after a patient in his mid-60s slipped, fell and fractured his hip. He underwent surgery and six days later stopped breathing. Allegations included the VA staff failed to protect the patient from falling and failed to properly provide
one-on-one observation post surgery, neither of which was substantiated by federal investigators.

The investigation into the second death showed the nurse’s assistant caring for him was on her sixth consecutive day of double shifts — 16 hours at a stretch. Investigators again cited “concern that working extra hours with double shifts could lead to staff becoming tired and less vigilant.”

A staff member working double shifts was not common practice, according to Northport VAMC spokesman Levi Spellman, who said union workers are contractually required to have 10 to 12 hours off between nursing shifts.

Closer look at staffing numbers

Records pulled by the federal investigators showed Northport VAMC has been chronically short of nursing staff dating back to at least 2016. Allegations were made that understaffing could lead to a higher rate of “nurse-sensitive outcomes,” such as surgical wounds getting infected, urinary tract infections, ulcers and pneumonia.

Northport’s four nursing homes were found to be short approximately 6.3 full-time employees in 2016 needed to meet VA’s recommended number of nursing hours spent with patients per day. By 2017, the facility’s staffing shortage had more than doubled, with 15.3 additional full-time employees needed. Northport VAMC’s nursing homes were only staffed at 60 to 80 percent of recommended levels over the two years, according to federal investigators.

Northport VAMC’s leadership attempted to tackle the short staffing issue by using “floating” shifts and overtime — sometimes mandatory, according to the federal report. Floating shifts meant staff from other areas of the VAMC were brought in to assist with patients in the nursing homes.

In 2016, Northport VAMC’s nursing home employees put in a  total of 19,991 hours of overtime. It nearly doubled by the end of 2017 as only 107.9 of the facility’s authorized 128 full-time positions were filled, according to Spellman, causing the facility’s overtime costs to skyrocket to nearly $1.5 million.

“Nurse managers had no mechanism to alert them if one of their unit nursing personnel worked excessive OT,” the report reads.

Federal investigators found part of the nursing homes’ staffing issues were due to an inability to hire and retain the members of its nursing staff. Northport VAMC got approval to hire 10 additional registered nurses and 10 nurse assistants as intermittent staff in November 2016, though the team wasn’t assembled until August 2017.

Often the process of hiring new nursing staff was delayed. In one instance, Northport’s leadership said two applicants interviewed and hired in January 2017 were told they would not start working until July.

“This delay in hiring often resulted in the loss of selected applicants who took other jobs,” the report reads.

The leadership of Northport VAMC said the high cost of living on Long Island has also made finding and maintaining a full-time staff difficult.

“Not only does this affect our ability to retain talent, but to recruit it as well,” spokesman Spellman said.

Steps to improvement

The federal investigators made three recommendations to Northport VAMC in order to  ensure it has adequate nursing care for its patients and improve quality of care for residents.

First, that the VAMC’s acting director, Dr. Cathy Cruise, completes a review of the nursing homes to ensure staffing levels align with the needs of its current residents. More staff should be recruited and hired to fill the current vacancies “until optimal staffing is attained,” reads the report.

Spellman said leadership of Northport VAMC, including Cruise, have already started taking action, implementing changes to improve the quality of care and working conditions.

A registered nurse clinical coordination position has been added in order to streamline nursing staff’s efficiency, according to Spellman. At the beginning of 2018, the facility was given approval to hire 2.6 more full-time employees and another 10 staff members were recently approved to bring the total nursing staff to the equivalent 140.6 positions.

“A staffing methodology is in the process of being completed, with additional staff expected,” Spellman said.

The Northport VA has received approval to directly hire its nursing staff and is giving new employees immediate start dates, according to him. It also had plans to expand its nursing floating pool, and to cross train other VAMC nurses in long-term care to continue to grow the available number of staff who can provide residents with care.

Third, Northport’s leadership was also told to improve its management of staff’s overtime hours and make sure of future responsible use of financial resources, citing the $1.5 million in 2017 overtime.

“Federal employees are expected to be good stewards of government funds,” the report reads. “The OIG found a lack of accountability for managing OT expenditures.

Spellman said the nursing homes staff had a total weekly average of 437.3 hours of overtime for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. This indicates a significant drop from last year, where the total weekly average of overtime exceeded 750 hours.

“All of this is to say that, while the OIG has helped Northport identify areas in which we can improve, we have implemented measures to make those improvements — and we are already seeing results,” Spellman said.

When it came to this year’s annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Centereach Pool Complex, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) decided to do something different. On July 21, the 2018 version of the event was transformed into the Hoops for Military Heroes.

“We always try to do something to highlight veterans and try to bring them together with other community members,” LaValle said.

Farmingville Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 400, Tordik-Diedrich-Duffield VFW Post 4927 and AMVETS Post 48 are all in the councilman’s district, and he said he thought the basketball tournament would be a good way for the veterans and young people in the area to interact.

This year’s event attracted more than 60 students in seventh to 12th grade and approximately a dozen veterans, according to LaValle. Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) donated funds for the beverages and snacks, and members of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials refereed the games for free. All funds raised will be donated to local veterans’ organizations.

The councilman said the event was successful, and he already has ideas for next year, including assigning a veteran as captain to each team.

“I would definitely love to continue this tradition,” LaValle said.

Northport VA Medical Center. File photo

The director of Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center has submitted his resignation, leaving the facility after a year at the helm.

Scott Guermonprez’s last day leading the Northport VA will be July 14 as he intends to retire after more than 30 years of military and federal service.

“Having the opportunity to come back to Long Island and my home, Northport, as a capstone assignment is a wonderful and awesome way to finalize my career,” Guermonprez said.

Having the opportunity to come back to Long Island and my home, Northport, as a capstone assignment is a wonderful and awesome way to finalize my career.”
– Scott Guermonprez

The director said this is effectively his second retirement from service. Guermonprez said he built his career in the military health  care system serving as an administrator there for 24 years, before initially filing for retirement. At the last minute, he transferred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to begin serving other veterans. Guermonprez worked for three years at Albany VA Medical Center before coming to Long Island.

“We’ve had a great time with health care professionally in Albany and Northport leading change, positive change we needed to make happen,” he said. “I am excitedly looking forward to future opportunities with family.”

Guermonprez said he believes he is leaving Northport’s facilities in better condition than when he arrived, claiming he’s improved the timely access to health care for veterans by making same-day appointments available for primary care and adding an increased capacity for telehealth, where elderly veterans can now use technology to talk and consult with their physicians from the comfort of their home. 

Dr. Cathy Cruise, recently promoted to permanent chief of staff at Northport VA, will step up to serve as the acting director while a national search is conducted to find Guermonprez’s successor.

“I can say I’m very happy to serve in the acting director position for as long as it takes; it’s an honor,” said Cruise, a Huntington native. “I’ve grew up here and developed my love of medicine here.”

Cruise has worked at the Northport center for approximately two years but has spent more than 23 years serving with the VA. She will take the reins of the $15 million in capital projects currently underway at the facility and, possibly, the long-awaited demolition of two buildings Guermonprez has focused on, for which permits were received and authorized July 5.

“I wish I could be here for it, but I’ve asked Dr. Cruise to save a brick for me,” he said.