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Schumer Presses Principi On Delay In Canandaigua Va Hospital Decision

CARES Commission recommended keeping Canandaigua VA hospital open in Feb; VA Secy tells Schumer delay in his final decision does not indicate change in mind about hospital's fate

Schumer also pushes for date when decision can be expected; Principi estimates within three weeks

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today pressed VA Secretary Anthony Principi about his unexpected delay in announcing the fate of the Canandaigua VA hospital. Principi, who was expected to decide earlier this month whether to approve a plan to keep the hospital open and move 50 psychiatric beds to the Batavia and/or Buffalo VA facilities, assured Schumer last night that the delay does not indicate a change in the plan to keep the facility open and said a final announcement was likely to come within three weeks.

"Secretary Principi has been good to the Canandaigua community. He met with us when we asked him to. He visited the facility in person when we invited him and all accounts are that he will keep the hospital open. However, the recent delay in issuing a final decision made some people nervous and I wanted to make sure that no news was not bad news. Secretary Principi assured me that the delay has nothing to do with Canandaigua and that a decision is likely to be handed down within three weeks," Schumer said.

The CARES Commission released its plan in February to keep the facility open while moving 50 psychiatric beds to the Buffalo and/or Batavia VA facilities. While the plan to keep the hospital open was a significant victory, Schumer said that moving the beds to another facility could result in unnecessary additional costs because it could require hiring and training new staff there. Schumer also said that veterans in the Finger Lakes area who have come to rely on those services should not have them taken away.

Now that the Commission has issued its plan, it is up to VA Secretary Anthony Principi to either accept or reject it. Principi was initially expected to make a decision earlier this month but has not issued any public indication of when he will issue his final recommendation. Schumer called Principi Wednesday night to ensure that he had not changed his mind about keeping the hospital open and to get a firm deadline for when the announcement can be expected. Principi assured Schumer that the cause for the delay was unrelated to his decision about Canandaigua and instead due to budgetary and other unrelated issues. Principi also said that the final announcement could come as early as the end of next week and likely by the week of April 19th.

Earlier this year, the VA released its Draft National Plan which recommended closing the 70 yearold Canandaigua veteran's hospital, and sending roughly 200 inpatients and thousands of outpatients to more distant VA hospitals in Bath, Batavia, Buffalo, and Syracuse. Currently, the hospital administers medical services to an enrolled population of 25,000 area veterans in Canandaigua each year and cares for about 200 severely ill inpatients. In addition, the hospital employs an estimated 800 workers and is one of Ontario County's largest employers.

In response, Schumer, the delegation and the community mounted a furious lobbying campaign to keep the hospital open. Schumer arranged an inperson Congressional delegation visit with VA Secretary Anthony Principi in Washington, called him regularly to lobby him, and convinced him to come to Canandaigua to see the hospital in person.

At a public hearing at the facility in October, Schumer presented the CARES commission with a petition signed by about 80,000 New Yorkers concerned about the planned closing. In response to the grassroots campaign, the CARES Commission reversed itself and recommended keeping the facility open.