NORTHPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Over 100 veterans at Long Island's only VA hospital weren't able to get surgeries and had to be sent elsewhere after black particles were found spitting out of vents in the operation room.
CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported the discovery forced the closure of all the operation rooms at the Northport VA Medical Center.
"This was basically a catastrophic failure of one of our systems," Philip Moschitta, director of the Northport VA Medical Center, said.
All surgeries had to be suspended as five of its operating rooms have been shuttered behind plastic tarps after sand-sized rust particles spewed from aging air ducts.
The discovery in February closed the operating rooms for weeks. The ducts were thoroughly cleaned but began spitting metal particles again. Moschitta said to eliminate the remote possibility of rust entering an open wound, he had to shut down the operating rooms again. He assures veterans they've cared for that their health has not been compromised.
"The patient care has not been compromised. The air quality has never been compromised," Moschitta said.
Now veterans have to wait or go elsewhere as the closest VA hospitals are in Manhattan and the Bronx. Jack Maxwell, a Navy veteran, wondered why sterile operating rooms have 50-year-old rusting duct work.
"Northport does a good job, but Washington has to learn to stop penny-pinching when it comes to our veterans," Maxwell said.
Long Island's congressional delegation was kept in the dark about the closure.
"They should have notified members of Congress, they should have notified veterans organizations," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said. "There was no notice of this at all, and that is just wrong."
"That 117 veterans weren't able to get surgeries because of malfunctionins at a VA hospital, that's just outrageous," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said. "No matter what else we do in Washington we need to put them first."
Moschitta apologized to the delegation.
"Clearly we should have informed them so there were no surprises," Moschitta said.
There is a short-term plan to fit custom filters over ducts to enable the operating rooms to reopen in the next 10 to 12 days.
In the long-term, they are seeking approval from Washington to replace all of the operation rooms, upgrades veterans said should have been done years ago.
The Northport VA, which serves 32,000 veterans, normally conducts around 30 surgeries every week.
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