A temporary heating and air conditioning unit installed at the homeless shelter of Northport VA medical center. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Standing in front of Northport Veterans Medical Center’s shuttered homeless shelter on Monday morning, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the center requires $15 million in emergency repairs to its heating and air-conditioning systems. Or, it faces the possibility of closing more buildings and its operating rooms again this summer.

“It’s hard to believe, but the dog days of summer are on our doorstep,” Schumer said. “The existing HVAC systems at this veterans center aren’t functioning. To shut down surgeries, to shut down treatment for our veterans is an absolute disgrace.”

Schumer called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately cut an emergency check for more than $15 million to the Northport medical center April 9. The funding would come from the roughly $4 billion set aside in a recently passed federal spending bill to repair and upgrade veterans medical centers across the nation. The senator said he pushed for that funding to be approved specifically with Northport VA in mind.

“We have an emergency here; it’s worse than most other places,” Schumer said. “My message to the VA as summer looms is simple: Don’t make our Long Island veterans sweat over their health care.”

To shut down surgeries, to shut down treatment for our veterans is an absolute disgrace.”

— Chuck Schumer

Standing with Northport VAMC Director D. Scott Guermonprez, Schumer noted the 42-bed homeless shelter was closed in January after its heating system failed during a cold snap. In February, the hospital had to close five of its operating rooms due to an air-conditioning system malfunction, which caused 18 surgeries to be postponed.

The 91-year-old facility provides medical care and services to approximately 130,000 veterans living on Long Island, according to Guermonprez. Its buildings were constructed between 1927 and 1931, a time during which windows were opened and large ceiling fans used to circulate cool outdoor air. While these structures were retrofitted with supplemental heating and cooling systems, Guermonprez said, it was never fully to modern standards.

“As we replace them, we’ll ensure that we have new systems going in place, we’re not fixing the ones that are here today,” he said.

My message to the VA as summer looms is simple: Don’t make our Long Island veterans sweat over their health care.”

— Chuck Schumer

According to Schumer’s estimates, the Northport VA’s hospital will require roughly half of the $15 million to fix long-standing heating ventilation and air-conditioning issues. In 2016, the hospital was forced to close its operating rooms for four months as the air-conditioning system wasn’t properly filtering, but rather spitting particles into the air. The same unit is still in use today, according to Schumer, and needs immediate replacement, as it is 12 years past its maximum advised life span, for $2.5 million. It’s estimated that $5 million would be needed to cover duct work and air volume control boxes to regulate air flow and room temperature in the hospital.

The Northport VA hospital also needs approximately $700,000 to replace the heating and air-conditioning systems in its isolation units for infectious disease patients. These four rooms, located on the second floor, currently cannot be used.

Other buildings that require repairs and upgrades include the hospital’s pharmacy storage, the post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center and the administrative building.

“We have a $4 billion pot of money, $15 million isn’t too much to ask,” Schumer said. “We need to get it now before summer.”

In addition to the repairs, the VA medical center director said he has hired a new chief engineer and is in the process of reorganizing its engineering department to have the skills necessary to maintain and upkeep new, high-tech heating and air-conditioning units once they are in place.

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