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En español | The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is increasing efforts to protect its most vulnerable patients from the coronavirus by prohibiting visitors at its 134 nursing homes and 24 spinal cord injury centers.
No outsiders are permitted to see these residents except for “compassionate cases,” when a veteran is in the last stages of life in hospice. Additionally, all nursing homes have suspended new admissions except for transfers from other VA facilities after a doctor's clearance.
Spinal cord injury and disorder centers aren't admitting new patients for routine matters. All staff is being screened daily.
"These commonsense measures will help protect some of our most vulnerable patients,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA will make every effort to minimize the impact of these policies on veterans while putting patient safety first."
On Monday, Veterans Affairs system deaths from COVID-19 totaled 1,589. Those deaths included only veterans diagnosed at VA hospitals and medical centers. Since June 19, three additional VA employees have died, bringing the total to 39 workers in 27 facilities — including six workers at the VA New Jersey Health Care System, with campuses in East Orange and Lyons, and three each at facilities in Reno, Nevada, and Indianapolis.
The VA medical system, which includes both care homes and health care centers, has logged 21,578 confirmed coronavirus cases in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The early hot spot of New Orleans was up by 24 cases in the past 10 days, to 587. Three sets of VA facilities in New York City and nearby New Jersey also have added cases since June 19, increasing by 84, to 2,419 in total, and two VA health care centers in the Boston area reported 40 more cases, bringing their total to 825.
About three-quarters of the VA’s COVID-19 patients across the country are 14 days beyond their last positive test or have been home from hospitalization for at least two weeks, the agency reports.
Increased screening at VA med centers
VA medical centers across the country are taking precautions to screen patients, staff and visitors. Veterans with symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to call their health care facility if they have symptoms of the infection and may be directed to use telehealth so they won’t have to leave home.
Veterans who have appointments for other needs are advised to come early to allow time for screening. Everyone is being screened for signs of respiratory illness and coronavirus exposure.
One example: The Connecticut VA Healthcare System is funneling those who want to get inside to two entrances on each VA campus. Screening questions include whether guests have a fever or flu-like symptoms, where they've traveled in the past 14 days and what contact they've had with anyone confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Telemedical care is an option
If a VA client has a cough, fever and shortness of breath, the veteran is advised to call the local VA medical center and select the option to speak to a nurse before visiting. The client also is asked to consider using the VA's telehealth and virtual care options so that he or she can be evaluated without leaving home.
"We need to do that to make sure that those who use VA are protected, that they are cared for,” Wilkie said at the American Legion Winter Conference. “We will get over this and we will make sure everything is done to protect those who have done so much for our country."
Editor's note: This story, originally published March 11, 2020, has been updated to reflect increased coronavirus cases in the VA system.