Finally Open Again After Sandy, Manhattan VA Looks Ahead to Future Floods

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The last of New York City’s hospitals devastated by Sandy has fully reopened after six months of repairs.

The Manhattan Veterans Administration medical center is resuming full inpatient services this week with scheduled surgeries. Other parts of the facility had come on line at various points over the past few months, with the full-fledged emergency room getting up and running last week.

The reopening means vets who rely on the Manhattan complex for everything from group therapy to major surgery will no longer need to spend hours on shuttle buses trekking to VA facilities in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Last week, Vietnam War veteran Charlie Mayorca, 67, sat outside the Manhattan VA, located on East 23rd Street. Until the repairs were completed, he had been exiled to the Brooklyn facility, which is located in Bay Ridge, close to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“Basically, it was a mess,” Mayorca said. “The computer systems are different. The way they do things are different. It takes a few months to get used to it, and they still can’t get the kinks out.”

Many less intrepid veterans were not able to travel the distances to the other facilities—or declined to, preferring to wait until service in Manhattan was restored. Martina Parauda, the head of the local VA hospital network, said staff members called patients to let them know their options, but they were concerned about vulnerable veterans who might let their health deteriorate.

“We did have veterans who chose to wait,” Parauda said. “And what we would find is some of them would walk into the ER in less than perfect care, and we would treat them immediately, and some we had to get in an ambulance right away and send them to the Brooklyn VA, or, in some cases up to Bellevue.”

At the same time, the hospital, which sits just across the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive from the East River, has received a $207 million appropriation from Congress to make improvements that will help it withstand future flooding. 

Among other things, that funding would pay to relocate most of the utility systems from the basement to various spaces above ground and build a two-block-long sea wall slated to be around 12 feet tall. About 90,000 square feet of primary and specialty care clinic space that also was in the basement will be moved to an upper floor that is currently being redesigned and reconfigured; those clinics, which were largely destroyed by flooding, are temporarily located on different floors.

During the closure, longstanding rumors resurfaced that what the VA really wants is to permanently shut the Manhattan hospital and sell off the land for real estate. Now, with Washington poised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in redesigning and rebuilding large parts of it, the VA appears to be staying put, at least for the immediate future.