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VA Hospital Gets Security Gate

Charlotte Albright
A new gate stands at the main entrance to the VA Hospital in White River Junction.

There’s a new look to the entrance of the VA Hospital in White River Junction. The sprawling campus now has an iron gate at the main entrance.There is no fence yet connected to the gate, so it’s not really a major barrier.  But VA officials say there are also many other less visible security measures in place.

In 2010, the Veterans Administration conducted what it called a “Vulnerability Assessment,” and found that many facilities needed to ramp up security.

The new gate in White River Junction is the first step in gradual compliance toward those new standards. It’s just a gate, and pedestrians still have easy access to the property perimeter, so it deters cars more effectively than pedestrians. John Richardson, Chief of Police for the facility, says it’s not possible to close the whole campus the way schools lock their doors during the day.

“At middle school, you have everyone in there during the day.They stay there so you can control access through one door. Here we have patients coming for appointments, on a continuous basis, different areas of the hospital. This is a big campus; you can’t make everyone come in through one door, it just wouldn’t be feasible,” Richardson said.

But Richardson does have a way to secure every door simultaneously in the event of a sudden lockdown, and emergency  notifications can be immediately posted via email and computers. 

VA Hospital Director Deborah Amdur says she knows that bad things can happen—and have been happening--in federal buildings, so she says the White River Junction staff is prepared to handle emergencies.

“Emergencies involving health risks, to emergencies involving an active shooter, things of that sort--we really need to be prepared for anything that could potentially happen. As Chief Richardson said, we are like a small city here, we have close to a thousand employees and thousands of veterans and families coming and going at all times, so important that we are able to keep everybody safe,” she said.

And Amdur says safety takes more than a gate or a fence. It takes vigilance from the twelve officers in the police force, who must occasionally deal with veterans or visitors who are behaving erratically.

“I like to consider them part of our mental health team here so sometimes if we have a particularly challenging situation with a veteran who is acting out in some way or who is particularly distraught about something it may be one of our police officers actually who is the best person to communicate with that individual,” Amdur said.

Most of those officers, Amdur says, are veterans themselves.  Chief Richardson says the security fence will be expanded as resources become available. A federal report released in March finds that the Veterans Administration in general needs to do a better job identifying physical risks at their facilities.

But Amdur and Richardson say they are confident that the hospital in White River Junction is taking all the necessary steps to maintain safety while at the same time being a welcoming place to find help.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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