Wednesday, April 22, 2020

VA Head Acknowledges Challenges For Health Care Workers Battling Coronavirus

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the country's largest health care network with 300 hospitals, clinics and nursing homes nationwide. More than 9 million American veterans get care from the VA, and today VA doctors and nurses serve on the frontlines of the pandemic crisis.
In March, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told NPR's All Things Considered that his department was well-prepared for the outbreak of COVID-19, and had good supplies of masks and testing kits. The reality is different today, he said.
"Since then, as the national emergency kicked in since I did that interview, the normal supply chains have dried up," said Wilkie.
Wilkie insists the VA did sufficient planning, with "war games" of the outbreak earlier this year. And he said the VA had replenished its national emergency cache of health supplies before the virus hit. That planning has not measured up to the crisis. No VA hospital has run out, but that's because the VA has been forced to carefully ration equipment.
"For those who are on the front lines in the emergency rooms, in the COVID wards, who are in the nursing homes, they have the normal supply of equipment. It's those who do not have that direct contact with patients that we've asked to follow CDC guidelines," he said.
Wilkie admits the Centers for Disease Control guidelines are based more on adapting to the crisis than on ideal medical practices.
"We are ensuring that those on the front lines have what they need," he said. "Does everyone in a hospital have all of the changes in gear that we would have in a normal situation? No."

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