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Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen 

Port Byron's Grace Ford brings the ball up the court against Cato-Meridian at Cato-Meridian High School Tuesday.

Cayuga County veterans seek answers about new Auburn outpatient clinic at forum

AUBURN — Voices were raised and questions were answered at a forum on the upcoming new Auburn-based outpatient veterans clinic. 

Over 150 people attended the forum at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn Tuesday. 

The Syracuse Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently picked Virginia-based health clinic STG International to be the provider for an Auburn clinic over Auburn Community Hospital, which has held the clinic contract for over 20 years. The new outpatient clinic will be set up at the former Rite Aid pharmacy at 47 E. Genesee St., with a targeted May opening. 

STG International was chosen as part of the established Department of Veteran Affairs federal solicitation and award selection process. Contracts for VA clinics are competitively bid every five years as a part of the process.

With about 10,000 square feet of space, about twice the size of the current facility, the new building will be designed to provide patient privacy and expanded services, including mental health, health and diet. The VA has said the Auburn hospital will continue to operate the current clinic during the transition and services for veterans will continue without interruption.

STG International and the Syracuse VA representatives attended the forum. Also attending were representatives for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Rep. John Katko, whose offices were contacted by ACH about stopping the contract award until the process and decision are reviewed. Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Robert McLean, public affairs officer for the Syracuse VA, had previously said "a formal contracting process had been completed for the Cayuga County CBOC and STG's submission was selected as the most responsive to the needs of our Veterans."

STG International CEO Jeff Bell said the company intends to offer positions at the new clinic to every staff member at ACH's facility. If those people don't accept, STG International will look locally to fill the remaining spots.

Elle Ramirez, STG International's director of clinical operations, said after the forum that the company is looking at approximately 11 staff members. Ramirez also noted work on the building is slated to start in February.

Matt Chadderdon, vice president of marketing for Auburn Community Hospital, took the podium, saying the clinic's scores from veterans haven't scored below 90 percent since the scores were established.

Chadderdon said the hospital does not begrudge STG International but said he felt veterans were not consulted before the decision. He said the hospital would like the Syracuse VA to meet with the hospital to "formally review the process and the decision criteria before any further action is taken."

Veteran Bill Gillette said he didn't like the change from Auburn Community Hospital's clinic to STG International, noting he likes the service he gets from the hospital. He asked people to raise their hands if they wanted the clinic to remain at the hospital. A fair amount of people raised their hands.

"See that," he said. "We don't want this new place. Don't move it! How can we change this around so we stay at the hospital?" 

Chadderdon said he didn't know the answer but said the Syracuse VA officials and congressional representatives may have the answer.

At one point, a veteran asked if the federal review process was followed when STG International was chosen as the new provider.

Dr. Judy Hayman, medical center director for the Syracuse VA, said after the forum that as far as she was aware, the time for a review had closed.

U.S. Army veteran Ken Burnett said during the forum that he wanted to know if the same staff he has dealt with at the hospital's clinic will be carried over.

"We're all senior citizens, OK? And it's hard to get into a senior citizen's head and make a change, right or wrong," he said. "Especially an old vet. Us old vets are pretty stuck in our way."

Veteran Sharon Schooley said she found different parts of the hospital's clinic to be inconvenient. 

"I think it's time that there was a change for our veterans to be able to go a facility where it's far more accommodating," Schooley said. "I think the new facility where they want to put it is more than appropriate."

Ramirez said she felt good about the forum, noting she has attended many similar ones, so STG International is prepared for veterans' questions.

"We completely understand change is not easy for most. That's why we're here. We're here to answer the questions. We're here to listen and we're here to support the community and hopefully over the next few months they'll get to know us and get more comfortable with this transition," she said.

Gallery: Veterans voice concerns over new clinic in Auburn

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Veteran Dick Williams expresses his opinion during a forum about the Auburn veterans outpatient clinic.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

STG International CEO Jeff Bell answers questions from veterans during a forum about the Auburn veterans outpatient clinic.

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Crash involving snowplow results in 'serious injury' on Routes 5 and 20 in Cayuga County

State police are investigating an accident involving a snowplow and a passenger vehicle that injured a 58-year-old Auburn woman Tuesday morning.

The crash involved a state Department of Transportation snowplow and a car each with one occupant, state police said. Police reported that the driver of the car, DeAnna Taylor, was extricated from the wreckage and airlifted to Upstate University Medical Center in Syracuse with lower body injuries. Police did not have an update on the extent of Taylor's injuries, but believed airlifting her to Upstate was a precautionary measure.

The sedan was traveling west on Route 20 when it lost control and entered the eastbound lane, police said. Todd Arnold, who was operating the plow, traveling east, noticed the vehicle and slowed down as much as he could, police said, but the sedan collided into the plow. Arnold suffered a back injury, but police were unsure if he sought medical attention at a hospital. 

The accident occurred just before 10 a.m. Rescuers later requested that a helicopter be sent to assist, and a landing site was established at the state police barracks on Route 20 in Aurelius. The helicopter reportedly departed at 10:50 a.m.

Routes 5 and 20 west of Auburn between Lime Kiln Road and Basswood Road were closed for several hours as state troopers remained at the scene of the crash to conduct an accident investigation. The roadway was reopened at about 1:40 p.m. State police said the accident is still being investigated. 

Gallery: Car collides with a snowplow in Aurelius

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Six years after SAFE Act, NY lawmakers pass more gun control measures

Six years after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the SAFE Act, the Democratic-led state Legislature passed six bills Tuesday to strengthen New York's gun laws. 

The legislative package passed mostly along party lines. The six bills include a "red flag" law, which would provide a method for family members, law enforcement and school administrators to ask courts to remove guns from an individual determined to be a risk to themselves or others. 

Lawmakers approved a ban on bump stocks and a bill to prohibit schools from allowing teachers and other staff — with the exception of school resource officers — to possess firearms on school grounds. 

The package also included the establishment of a municipal gun buyback program led by the New York State Police, requires mental health background checks for out-of-state residents seeking gun permits in New York and mandate a 30-day waiting period to complete a gun purchase if a background check is inconclusive. 

Cuomo, a Democrat, backs the gun safety measures. His legislative agenda included a few of the proposals, including the bump stock ban and red flag law. 

Before the state Legislature's votes, Cuomo held a press conference with gun safety advocates and family members who lost loved ones to gun violence. He touted the passage of the SAFE Act in 2013 as "the most comprehensive, most aggressive safe gun agreement in the United States of America." 

With mass shootings still occurring, he believes more action is necessary. 

"You put the SAFE Act together with this red flag, what New York says is you can do this. There is a path forward. There is a solution," Cuomo said. "And we have six years of history to show that the planet does not stop spinning. People don't lose guns. It doesn't bankrupt an industry. None of those myths that they scare you with come true. They're just common-sense reforms." 

The gun laws, including the red flag proposal, were endorsed by Linda Beigel Schulman. Schulman's son, Scott Beigel, was a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He was one of 17 people killed in a mass shooting at the school last year. 

Later in the day, the state Senate adopted a resolution honoring Scott Beigel. 

Linda Beigel Schulman has been pushing for adoption of a red flag law since her son was killed. She recalled meeting with Cuomo, who told her that he supported the proposal. 

"When we pass the red flag law, thanks to you and the Legislature, but so thanks to you, Scott's murder will now save lives," she said. 

The proposals were opposed by many Republicans. State Sen. George Amedore criticized the bump stock ban legislation because he believes the SAFE Act already bans bump stocks and the federal government moved to ban the devices last year. 

State Sen. Rich Funke, a Rochester-area Republican, panned the ban on arming teachers because of "unintended consequences." He believes the measure was poorly written and could affect students that are part of competitive shooting teams. 

On the creation of a municipal gun buyback program, Republican state Sen. Pam Helming said she supports the concept, but opposed the bill because it lacks funding. 

"Without the funding behind it, how can we host the programs?" she said. "If we want to have a truly effective program, we need to come up with the money behind it." 

Despite the GOP opposition, the bills sailed through the state Legislature. The state Assembly and Senate passed the bills by wide margins. 

Democrats defended the necessity of the measures, while adding that they weren't targeting law-abiding gun owners. 

"Let's be clear: We absolutely respect the Second Amendment," Senate Majority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins said, "but it doesn't mean we should allow dangerous people to have firearms." 

Federal investigators win access to limo in deadly crash

SCHOHARIE — Federal investigators will finally be able to examine the stretch limousine in an October crash that killed 20 people, ending an increasingly testy impasse with local prosecutors over who has priority to probe the nation's deadliest transportation disaster in nearly a decade.

Under the deal reached Tuesday in Schoharie County court, prosecutors bringing charges against the limo company's operator will be able to remove auto parts potentially crucial to the criminal investigation before National Transportation Safety Board inspectors begin a hands-on inspection within the next two weeks.

The modified 2001 Ford Excursion blew through a stop sign at a T-intersection on Oct. 6 in rural Schoharie and crashed beside a country store, killing the driver, 17 passengers on a birthday outing and two pedestrians. The damaged vehicle has sat for months beneath a tent behind state police headquarters outside Albany.

"All I'm interested in is making sure everyone is able to do what they're charged with doing," Schoharie County Judge George Bartlett said during the hearing.

NTSB lawyers had argued that federal inspectors were prevented from getting within 15 feet of the crashed limo, and that their inability to make a detailed inspection unnecessarily delayed potentially crucial safety recommendations that could be applied to limos nationwide.

Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery argued that criminal trials take precedence and that her office dictates access to all evidence.

Under the deal, the NTSB can visually inspect the limousine as early as Tuesday and take photographs. After that, police experts will be clear to remove the limo's transmission and torque converter as part of the criminal investigation. The NTSB can then proceed with a hands-on inspection, which is expected to begin within the next two weeks.

NTSB investigators will be able to perform their entire post-accident protocol "except take brake fluid, because there is an insufficient amount available," according to the agreement read in court after lawyers for the prosecution, state police, the defense and NTSB met privately.

Instead, state police will send a report on the brake fluid testing to the NTSB investigators, "who have agreed not to make it public until completion of the criminal case," according to the agreement.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss did not have an estimate on when the board would release those findings, stressing that the agreement applies only to brake fluid testing.

Agency inspectors will be able to examine components removed from the limo, along with defense experts, "later in the criminal process," the agreement said.

The cordial, low-key hearing contrasted sharply with critical barbs local and federal officials have traded recently.

Mallery had accused the NTSB of spreading "legal and factual inaccuracies" through an "extensive press campaign" and of putting politics ahead of "justice for the victims and grieving families."

NTSB lawyer Kathleen Silbaugh argued that the nearly four-month delay could cause critical evidence, such as brake fluid, to be lost or degraded.

Bartlett called for Tuesday's hearing earlier this month, writing that "this standoff must come to an end."

Just weeks before the crash, the limo had failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes. Prosecutors allege the limo company's operator, Nauman Hussain, allowed an improperly licensed driver to operate an "unserviceable" vehicle. He has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide, and his lawyer has said investigators rushed to judgment.

"The big problem was that defense experts and state police have all had access to the vehicle, we've been able to touch it, take photographs of it," defense lawyer Lee Kindlon told reporters after the hearing. "But the NTSB until today's agreement hasn't been able to take part in that investigation. Now we've got a framework and timeline in terms of who gets to see it, and when."