The 50-year-old Veterans'Administration (VA) hospital in St. Albans will undergo extensive modernization and existing medical centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn will stay open and, like the St. Albans facility, will continue to provide veterans in the New York City area with improved health care, R. James Nicholson, Secretary of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, announced during a visit to New York City last Friday. The announcement was the conclusion of an evaluation of the feasibility of closing either or both the Brooklyn or Manhattan hospitals as part of its Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative, according to Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens/Manhattan), who had been among those leading the fight to keep the two hospitals open. The St. Albans hospital had not been threatened with closing.
Underlying the decision about the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA facilities was Nicholson's determination to maintain access to care for veterans, as well as close ties to the medical schools of both New York University and the State University of New York. "[The] VAis able to provide top-notch health care for veterans thanks, in part, to the cooperation of our SUNY and NYU affiliates," Nicholson added. "[The] VAlooks forward to continuing our strong working relationships with those partners."
The Manhattan, Brooklyn and St. Albans VAcampuses are part of the VA's New York Harbor Health Care System, an integrated healthcare system in which facilities complement each other to provide services to veterans. These facilities offer a wide range of inpatient and outpatient services, including acute medicine, surgery and mental health, nursing homes and domiciliaries.
Nicholson said the VA would replace existing facilities on the St. Albans site with a state-of-the-art nursing home, outpatient clinics and domiciliary consolidated on the north end of the campus as part of the ongoing review of the facility.
"With new state-of-the-art facilities in St. Albans, New York veterans will have worldclass medical care well into the 21st century," Nicholson said. The Secretary also accepted recommendations from a local advisory panel to maintain access to the 55acre St. Albans campus via Linden Boulevard.
Nicholson also pledged that as the VA now prepares its development plans for St. Albans through its normal planning process, it will be sensitive to the surrounding community's concerns, especially regarding the height of buildings and the potential for keeping the current auditorium and chapel. Additional meetings of the local advisory panel for St. Albans will be scheduled to provide the VA with recommendations for the completion of the modernization and reuse plan for portions of the campus. The St. Albans project will be integrated into Nicholson's nationwide capital plan so that a timetable and budget can be established, followed by congressional consideration for authorization and funding.
Nicholson made the announcement on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's weekly radio show. "I applaud Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson's decision to keep open two VA hospitals in New York City and modernize a third facility so they can continue to provide high-quality care for the more than 300,000 veterans of our city," Bloomberg responded. "As I said when I testified before the federal Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) panel last year, we have a moral obligation to care for the men and women
who fought defend our freedoms. The VA had considered closing two of its New York City hospitals, in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but Secretary Nicholson did the right thing both for the veterans of our city who proudly served us in uniform and for the active duty men and women of our armed forces fighting today who will be tomorrow's veterans. I also would like to commend Secretary Nicholson for his decision to modernize another VA facility in Saint Albans, which is known for excellence in geriatrics for our veteran seniors. The four New York City VA facilities, including one in Kingsbridge in The Bronx, together provide unparalleled care for the more than 1.3 million veterans in the New York City region."
"I am pleased that the Veterans' Administration recognized what New Yorkers have known all along-these are extraordinary facilities that provide the highest quality of care to our veterans," Maloney commented. "It would have been impossible to close either [the Brooklyn or Manhattan hospital] without seriously harming the quality of care for veterans. For three years the veterans' hospitals have operated under the threat of closure, a threat that has caused enormous stress for the veterans who receive medical treatment at the hospitals and the terrific staff who care for them. I'm glad that the Veterans' Administration has finally put a very foolish idea to rest."
In a letter to Nicholson on Thursday, August 10, Maloney had urged him to use the occasion of his visit to New York to announce that both the Manhattan and Brooklyn VA hospitals would remain open. "New York City may be compact, but it is not always easy to get around," she wrote. "The commute to another hospital would be too difficult for many veterans, particularly the disabled, causing them to delay or forego necessary medical treatment. I hope you will use your visit to the Manhattan VA Hospital tomorrow to make clear that the United States will not forget the New York veterans who helped to fight for freedom around the globe. These veterans should continue to have access to the quality health care they need and deserve."
Bloomberg thanked the members of New York's congressional delegation, along with the New York University Medical Center, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, and Clarice Joynes of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs "for their tireless efforts in advocating to keep these VA facilities open and protect the rights of veterans to whom we owe so much." Maloney expressed appreciation for the veterans' groups and elected officials who joined in the fight to save the hospitals. "This is really a win for everyone," she said. "The community pulled together-veterans' groups, elected officials and affiliated hospitals. We all spoke with one voice, pointing out the excellence of our hospitals and the difficulty veterans would have had accessing treatment if either hospital had closed."