When the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center was built early in the 20th century as a haven for psychiatric and tuberculosis patients, the cooling system consisted of fans and open windows.
“It’s hard to believe, but the dog days of summer are on our doorstep, and to do surgery and treatment, you need a temperature that’s relatively temperate.”
Schumer called for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington to cut an emergency check for the replacement of the heating, cooling and ventilation systems across the medical center’s campus, where failing units have forced the cancellations of surgeries for weeks and months at a time.
Schumer helped negotiate a bill, signed into law, that allocates $4 billion to veterans’ hospitals across the country. Northport needs $15 million of that, Schumer said.
The air-conditioning unit in the main hospital is 12 years past its expiration date, according to a statement from Schumer’s office. Among its other needs is an HVAC unit for four second-floor rooms that are intended to house patients with infectious diseases.
Several more buildings on campus need new HVAC units, including Building 5, which has had three failed HVAC units for more than four years; and Building 7, in which the units are infested with rats and inoperable, the statement said.
As recently as February, Schumer said, the center shut five operating rooms, postponing 18 surgeries, because of HVAC problems. In 2016, the medical center closed its operating rooms for four months because particles from the HVAC system were blowing into operating rooms.
“Can you imagine, if you’re a veteran, or a family member of a veteran, you desperately need an operation, they say, ‘We can’t do it,’ not because the doctors aren’t there, not because you don’t deserve it, but because the HVAC system is so deteriorated that gunk is blowing into the operating room,” Schumer said.
Scott Guermonprez, the director of the Veterans Affairs center, previously served as director of the center in Albany. A Northport native who spent 30 years in the Air Force, he assumed the Long Island post in June after Philip C. Moschitta retired, amid an investigation into the center’s shortcomings. A spokeswoman for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs confirmed Monday that the congressional investigation was continuing.
“Most VAs are set up as a tower, like a single tower structure, that has almost a million square feet in one building,” Guermonprez said. “We have 72 buildings and 1.4 million square feet spread across the campus.”
The Northport center also has a new chief of engineering, Guermonprez said, and is hiring people with the necessary skills and abilities to make improvements. Replacing heating and cooling systems now comes with a fringe benefit, he added: energy efficiency.
Standing Monday near the temporary cooling system installed behind Building 11, Schumer started, “We’re here at this great facility.”
He paused, then corrected himself. “I shouldn’t say great,” he said. “I should say, ‘This very necessary facility.'”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.