Following surge in coronavirus cases, Senators lead effort to ensure preparedness and response from Veterans Health Administration
In response to the rapid spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, senators on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee are pushing to for assurances that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking a comprehensive approach to protect the nation’s veterans and the staff who provide their care.
In a letter to VA on Feb. 6 the Senators wrote: “Given the emergent nature of the virus, we want to ensure that veterans and staff can count on VA health care facilities to be fully prepared for prevention, diagnosis, and response efforts. We encourage VA to proactively reach out to us and our Senate colleagues if any additional resources or authorities are needed to help keep VA facilities safe during this outbreak.”
As the nation’s largest health care system-with 172 medical facilities and 1,241 outpatient sites, 9 million enrolled veterans, and employing more than 322,000 staff across the country-it is critically important for VA to be fully equipped to handle, monitor, and contain the spread of coronavirus.
The Senators requested information from the Department on its efforts to increase preparedness and response to the virus, and encouraged collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other Federal partners, writing, “Given that VA is the largest health care system in the U.S., we want to be sure that the Department is working together with CDC and other partners to monitor the outbreak and keep patients and staff safe. We ask what steps VA is taking to protect health care workers and whether VA facilities have the equipment/supplies needed for treating potential or confirmed cases.”
In addition to Tester (D-Mont.), the letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
The coronavirus outbreak began in China in January 2020, and has infected more than 28,000 people and spread to two dozen countries. The World Health Organization declared the virus a global health emergency on January 30, 2020. U.S. Health and Human Services announced a public health emergency the following day on January 31, 2020. Currently no veterans receiving care at VA have been diagnosed with Novel Coronavirus.
A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below:
February 6, 2020
Richard A. Stone, M.D.
Executive in Charge
Veterans Health Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont A venue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Dr. Stone,
With the rapid spread of the 2019 Novel Corona virus (2019-nCo V) and its expansion to the United States, we write to request information on what steps the Depar tment of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking to protect the health and safety of veterans and the dedicated staff who care for them. Given the emergent nature of the virus, we want to ensure that veterans and staff can count on VA health care facilities to be fully prepared for prevention, diagnosis, and response efforts. We encourage VA to proactively reach out to us and our Senate colleagues if any additional resources or authorities are needed to help keep VA facilities safe during this outbreak.
The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency and the first human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus was recently reported in the US. Now that the US has declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency, we are concerned about the potential impact on VA patients and staff. VA is the nation’s largest health care system, with 172 medical facilities and 1,241 outpatient sites, 9 million enrolled veterans, and employing more than 322,000 staff across the country, making it paiticularly important for VA to be fully equipped and prepared to handle the coronavirus outbreak.
We were pleased to see your January 30 message to patients and staff on the coronavirns and to hear that VA is closely monitoring the situation. We would ask you to keep us updated as any developments occur at VA, and for your help in better understanding V A’s coronavirus response by responding to the following questions:
- How is VA working in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other Federal paitners on coronavirus preparedness and response?
- What is currently known about the risk 2019-nCo V poses to health care workers? How is VA communicating with its facilities to ensure providers remain healthy and safe?
- How is VA communicating with patients about steps to prevent coronavirus and how to access testing and treatment if coronavirus is suspected?
- Is VA providing standardized training and guidance to Department facilities so that providers are equipped to safely assess and treat any potential cases of coronavirus?
- Do all VA facilities have the proper equipment and supplies necessary to treat any potential or confirmed coronavirus cases? Does VA have access to the rapid testing kits diagnosing coronavirus?
- Do VA facilities have dedicated, sterile space for isolating potential or confirmed coronavirus cases? And if no such care environment is available, does each facility have a plan for where the patient should be sent and how?
- Does VA need any additional resources or action from Congress to help with coronavirus response and preparedness?
We appreciate your collaboration on ensuring that VA facilities are prepared to respond to this global health emergency, and the health and safety of veterans and providers is protected.
Mazie K. Hirono