Veterans Affairs officials will begin today to offer non-emergency services at 20 medical centers across the country as part of a “phased approach” to resuming normal operations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The move comes despite more than 2,000 active coronavirus cases in VA facilities across the country, according to the latest data released by department officials on Monday morning.
Fourteen of the 20 of the sites reopening operations have at least one patient still actively receiving treatment for the fast-spreading illness.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the “lead sites” will help to inform officials on how other facilities can expand services in coming weeks and months.
“The safety of veterans and staff is the highest priority when we consider how we provide health care services and procedures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “VA will take into account guidance from various agencies including federal, state and local government as we gradually expand health care services.”
The latest VA move comes 11 days after the department released its agency plan for returning to pre-coronavirus operations, a three-phase plan based on “falling numbers of patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, reduced numbers of people testing positive for the virus, and increased testing capacity.”
In recent days, a number of states have lifted restrictions on public gatherings and business operations as national infection rates have shown signs of leveling off. Nearly 90,000 Americans have died from the fast-spreading virus in the last three months.
More than 1,000 VA patients have died from the coronavirus in the last three months.
Officials said that the 20 lead sites for VA will not reopen “a full spectrum of care” but may permit certain non-emergency in-person appointments and some elective procedures. Veterans must consult with local officials to determine what services will be made available in coming weeks.
Here is the list of sites open as of today, with the total number of coronavirus cases at the sites so far this year:
— Boise VAMC, Idaho (14 cases, 1 active)
— Central Arkansas Veterans HCS, Ark. (60 cases, 17 active)
— Erie VAMC, Penn. (6 cases, 1 active)
— Fargo HCS, N.D. (24 cases, 11 active)
— Fort Harrison VAMC, Mont. (5 cases, 0 active)
— Hershel “Woody” Williams VAMC, W.Va. (6 cases, 0 active)
— James H. Quillen VA HCS, Tenn. (19 cases, 2 active)
— Kansas City VAMC, Mo. (86 cases, 13 active)
— Louis Stokes Cleveland VAMC, Ohio (220 cases, 42 active)
— Puget Sound VAMC, Wash. (115 cases, 20 active)
— Ralph H. Johnson VAMC, S.C. (24 cases, 9 active)
— Salem VA Healthcare System, Va. (7 cases, 2 active)
— South Texas VA HCS, Texas (61 cases, 14 active)
— Syracuse VAMC, N.Y. (12 cases, 2 active)
— Tomah VAMC, Wisc. (4 cases, 0 active)
— VA Southern Arizona HCS, Ariz. (36 cases, 4 active)
— VA Southern Nevada HCS, Nev. (72 cases, 9 active)
— West Palm Beach VAMC, Fla. (56 cases, 10 active)
— White River Junction VA Medical Center, Vt. (9 cases, 0 active)
— William S. Middleton VAMC, Wisc. (22 cases, 8 active)
VA officials said they won’t be making any changes to employee and patient screening at hospitals for now, and physical distancing and face masks will still be mandated at all sites.
Department officials are also promising to continue to use telehealth and other remote medical tools “as these services have been a valuable link to veterans during this challenging time.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.