Rust from air ducts closes VA hospital operating rooms

Rust particles have shuttered all operating rooms at the only hospital for veterans on Long Island.

Black rust particles falling from the air ducts in the operating rooms at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center were first discovered in February. Three of the center's five operating rooms reopened briefly, but now all have been closed since April.

Philip Moschitta, the medical center's director, says the ducts are 45 years old.

"There were components inside the duct work that were deteriorating because of time, just rusting," he says. "We're an older facility, things occur, we stay on top of our maintenance but that doesn't mean stuff won't happen."

Hospital officials say the ducts are not directly over the operating tables, and that the particles were found on the floor. They acknowledge, though, that it is a risk, saying patients cannot undergo operations in a nonsterile environment. Hospital officials insist funding is not an issue and that the ducts have been maintained regularly.

Hospital officials say they are installing HEPA filters in all the air ducts to catch the particles and get the operating rooms reopened by June. From there, they say there will be a longer-term project to replace some of the parts in the air ducts. They want to eventually rebuild the operating rooms.

John Maxwell is a veteran and patient advocate who volunteers at American Veterans in Massapequa. While he says Northport does a decent job, Maxwell feels veterans don't get enough support.

"It comes down to staffing, the administration and their budget," he says. "And again I fall back to Washington."

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