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VA to Conduct Environmental Checkups on All of Its NY/NJ Healthcare Facilities

Release Date: 12/16/2004
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(#04184) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will conduct comprehensive environmental compliance audits of all of its 16 hospitals and associated clinics in New York and New Jersey within two years, according to an agreement signed today between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the VA. Acting EPA Regional Administrator Kathleen C. Callahan and Veterans Affairs Regional Directors William Feeley and James Farsetta made the agreement official this morning with a signing ceremony at a VA hospital in the Bronx. These hospitals provide services to more than a half million veterans in New York alone.

"Our objective is to have every healthcare institution in New York and New Jersey meet EPA's regulations," said Ms. Callahan. "The self-audit program is a great way to enable the area's hospitals to effectively meet their environmental obligations to the communities they serve."

With this agreement, EPA Region 2, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has signed 53 similar agreements, 37 with healthcare institutions, 15 with colleges and universities and one with a transportation authority.

"Regulatory compliance is an important part of our organizational culture and responsibility," said William Feeley, Director of the VA Healthcare Network Upstate New York. "We want to insure a safe environment for our patients, their families and our employees."

"An environment of care that's continuously monitored to meet the highest standards is part of the VA healthcare model provided to our nation's veterans," said James J. Farsetta, Director of the New York/New Jersey Veterans Healthcare Network. "Self-audits are an efficient way to ensure compliance with statutes designed to safeguard the health of all Americans."

The VA will conduct comprehensive environmental audits of its healthcare facilities in Buffalo, Batavia, Bath, Rome, Syracuse, Canandaigua, St. Albans, Montrose and Castle Point, as well as 29 community-based clinics throughout the region. Also covered under the agreement are VA hospitals in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. In New Jersey, facilities in Brick, Lyons and East Orange will also be audited. The VA has completed its review of hospitals in Albany and Northport and will submit final reports to EPA in the near future.

Today's agreement is part of EPA's Healthcare Compliance Initiative, an innovative environmental program that helps hospitals and healthcare facilities comply with EPA regulations. After performing self-audits, participants must report violations to EPA and take action to correct them. In return, EPA provides some relief from monetary penalties. To date, more than 1,100 violations have been identified and corrected by healthcare facilities that have participated in EPA's initiative.

The EPA audit agreements cover all major federal environmental programs including air, water, pesticides, underground storage tanks, solid and hazardous wastes, hazardous substances and chemicals, environmental response, emergency planning, community right-to-know requirements and toxic substances control.

EPA established the self-audit program because many healthcare facilities were either not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws or had failed to implement effective compliance strategies. As part of the Healthcare Compliance Initiative, EPA's regional office contacted all the hospitals in its jurisdiction and provided free workshops and an informational web site to alert them to their duties under the law. Hospitals were urged to join the Agency's voluntary self-disclosure program.