The COVID-19 virus that came to the United States at the beginning of this year caused an unprecedented shutdown of our country and the many services allotted to Americans. While this pandemic has affected almost every facet of our everyday lives this column focuses on the basic healthcare services and appointments throughout the Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, specifically the ones in our area. Also featured is information concerning the reopening of VA cemeteries.
January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a Public Health Emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the U.S. healthcare community in responding to COVID-19. On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.
March 23rd the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reacting to the outbreak of COVID-19 released a “three-phase Response Plan”. Which is a 262-page outline entitled, “Veterans Health Administration — Office of Emergency Management COVID-19 Response Plan Incident-specific Annex to the VHA High Consequence Infection (HCI) Base Plan Version 1.6, March 23, 2020.”
They said, “The plan to resume pre-coronavirus operations aims to ‘maximize veterans’ safety,’ adding that VA ‘never closed its doors’ during the pandemic but did take steps to curb some operations to prevent spreading the virus.” On Monday, VA said “the lessons learned from these initial sites resuming some normal operations will help inform how other facilities plan for expanding services.”
Under this plan 20 VA hospitals, one from each of the VA’s Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) were chosen to begin to provide services as states begin to reopen from COVID-19 shutdowns. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “Each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) has selected Lead Sites to be the first to implement a phased approach to reintroducing select health care services while ensuring a safe environment. The lessons learned from these initial sites will help to inform how other facilities plan for expanding services in their facilities.”
James H. Quillen VA Medical Center (JHQVAMC), which serves approximately 60,000 Veterans a year, was chosen for the VISN 9 lead site. As of June 6, JHQVAMC has 3 active cases, 19 convalescent cases and no deaths related to this virus. All of the cases have been Veterans and no employee illnesses have been reported.
“We are proud and excited to help lead VHA’s journey to High Reliability,” said Dean Borsos, Medical Center Director. “Our staff is focused on ensuring exceptional care for our Veterans, their families, and caregivers in the safest possible environment each and every day. We are all committed to continuing and expanding on that exceptional work as we begin our HRO journey.”
I spoke with an employee (friend) at the Sevierville VA clinic who told me the plan is to open the face to face appointments for 10 to 25 percent of the patients. The services will be for routine care and will be available in primary care, mental health, and outpatient specialty services. The waiting rooms will be adjusted to support social distancing and safety shields will be used to reduce respiratory exposure to coughing/droplets.
The VA said, “These face to face services are in addition to the expanded virtual care services that are currently being offered. Virtual care services, via Video on Demand or telephone, are readily available and, when appropriate, may be preferred to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure.
“Any urgent or emergent care issues will continue to be addressed and Urgent Care services remain available on the main campus at JHQVAMC. We will continue to closely monitor coronavirus activity in the local community and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing materials to determine when we can safely expand services further.
“We will take into account guidance from various agencies including federal, state, and local government as we gradually reintroduce health care services. As a high-reliability organization, safety is always paramount and will continue to guide our decision making.”
The Veterans’ Health Administration’s (VHA) release shares their mission, “This three-phase program the VHA has developed is a risk-based framework to prioritize non-urgent procedures, in addition to the urgent procedures currently being performed. Evaluation of factors such as patient health, staff safety and resource considerations will guide expansions and scheduling decisions. Rigorous safety measures including employee and Veteran COVID-19 screening, physical distancing, and appropriate personal protective attire such as face coverings and frequent disinfection of high-touch services will remain in place at all VHA facilities.”
The following processes are being put into effect:
• Veterans will be contacted ahead of their face to face appointment to be screened for coronavirus related symptoms such as fever, cough, or muscle aches. If any of these are present, the care team will determine how best to deliver the necessary care.
• All who enter the campus are required to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. Cloth or homemade masks may help protect others from a person who could unknowingly be transmitting the Coronavirus. The VA will provide a mask to Veterans who do not have one available to them. Be aware that wearing a mask does not replace the practice of hand hygiene and every day preventative actions to avoid exposure to the virus:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Stay home if you are sick or becoming sick.
• Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol
• Inpatient units continue to be closed to visitors until further notice.
• Please call your healthcare provider if you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID
In conjunction with this information JHQVAMC issued this update:
Situation Update — Mountain Home VA Healthcare System
06/03/2020 03:04 PM EDT
Help reduce the risk of spreading the flu, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and other illnesses
EFFECTIVE MARCH 23, access to the main campus is only through the Lamont/Veterans Way and Lake Drive Gates. Employees may access campus through Gold Star Blvd from 6-8 a.m. with their employee stickers. All other gates will be closed. Please follow the signs to the screening tents.
Effective immediately, the following visitation safeguards are in place:
• If you become sick, stay home and call ahead to your clinic or VA facility before visiting.
• Valet services are temporarily suspended until further notice. Parking lots ordinarily used for valet parking are now opened for patient self-parking.
• All patients will be screened for COVID-19 before entering the medical center
• Outpatients should come to appointments alone if possible, but if medically necessary, please limit the number of individuals accompanying you to one immediate family member or caregiver.
• Visitors are not allowed. The exceptions are hospice and palliative care patients.
• No one under the age of 18 is allowed in the facility.
• Face coverings or masks are required of everyone entering the medical center for the duration of their visit.
Additional restrictions may be put in place as conditions warrant.
If you have any question you can contact the JHQVAMC at 423-926-1171. If you have questions about Community Care they are available at extension 2000.
VA NATIONAL CEMETERIES:
Beginning June 9, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries will resume committal services. This will affect all but two cemeteries. At the Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries, that option will be available starting June 22, provided state and local guidance permit.
“During the last 10 weeks VA national cemeteries have continued performing our essential mission — to inter Veterans and eligible family members,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them.”
Since March 23rd, the VA’s national cemeteries have continued to allow interments and visitation since the beginning of the pandemic on a limited basis. Because of safety and health concerns they ceased full committal and military honors.
Interments scheduled on or after June 9, will be offered the option of a committal service at the time of interment. Military funeral honors, customarily provided by the Department of Defense and volunteer honor guards, will be based on local availability.
“VA national cemeteries will continue adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of individuals attending committal services, practicing physical distancing between individuals not from the same household, ensuring all attendees and employees wear face coverings, encouraging frequent use of hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay home.
“The number of permitted attendees will vary based on state and local guidelines for gathering sizes provided the facility can accommodate increased attendees while maintaining physical distancing. Families may continue to choose direct interment and opt for a memorial service later when all restrictions have been lifted.”
They add, “Memorial services for Veterans and eligible family members who were interred without a committal service between March 23 and June 8 will commence in July.” For more information, visit the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). To make burial arrangements at any VA national cemetery contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117.
NEWS OF NOTE:
AMVETS Post 75, reported they held a fundraising meeting last Tuesday night and have set plans to hold a full meeting next month. Post 75 meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Newport Community Center 433 Prospect Avenue. The next meeting will be Tuesday, July 7 at 7 p.m. You can call the Commander, Richard Holt, at (423) 608-2902 for more information.
American Legion Post 41 has announced they will have their first normally scheduled meeting Tonight, Tuesday June 9. The meeting will include installation of officers and discussion of projects for the next year. Post 41 meets the second Tuesday of each month at the American Legion’s Cocke County Memorial Building 103 N. Cosby Highway. The meetings begin 5 p.m. with a potluck meal, followed by the business meeting at 6 pm. Entry will be on C Avenue across from the Newport Fire Department. You can call David Mills, Commander at (423) 237-6896 for directions or more information.
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 at 148 Pine Street. Chapter 102 meets the third Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be this Thursday, June 18th at 148 Pine Street at 7 p.m., until restrictions are lifted there will not be a meal preceding the meeting. For more information contact Larry Hartsell, Commander at 423-623-5112.
Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to 565 Caney Creek Road Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.