VA plans to open 1,500 hospital beds to non-veterans infected with COVID-19

Abbie Bennett
April 06, 2020 - 12:36 pm
Wilkie

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to open 1,500 hospital beds to non-veterans infected with the coronavirus, Secretary Robert Wilkie announced.

The plan is part of VA's fourth mission to serve as a backup for the American healthcare system in times of crisis.

“We are in the fight, not only for the 9.5 million veterans who were part of our service, but we are in the fight for the people of the United States,” Wilkie said during a press briefing at the White House Sunday. 

He said VA is readying beds and plans to treat non-veteran patients in Louisiana, Michigan and Massachusetts so far. VA already is providing care for non-veterans at some of its hospitals in New York and New Jersey as of last week. At VA hospitals in Manhattan, Brooklyn and in East Orange, N.J., VA was treating at least 100 non-veterans, Wilkie said. 

VA planned to alert Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards today that the state could use the Shreveport, La. VA hospital for non-veterans after Edwards cautioned that the state could run out of ventilators this week. 

“We will be informing the governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, tomorrow that we will give him access to our VA medical center in Shreveport to come to the aid of the people of the Pelican State,” Wilkie said. 

Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, has been one of the areas hardest hit by the virus for veterans and non-veterans. As of Sunday, the New Orleans VA had nearly 400 cases of veterans testing positive for the virus -- the most of any VA facility nationwide. 

At least 18 veterans have died of the virus at the New Orleans VA. 

Last week, VA announced plans to transfer non-coronavirus patients to VA hospitals in Mississippi to make room for treating patients infected with the virus. 

VA is preparing to provide hospital beds in Ann Arbor, Mich. and Detroit, Wilkie said. VA also deployed a mobile pharmacy to Michigan, he said, and VA planned to provide help to at least two Massachusetts nursing homes, but did not provide further details. 

The John. D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit has at least 91 veterans who tested positive for the virus as of Sunday. 

In all of VA's missives about providing aid to non-veterans, the department has been careful to say that those efforts would not negatively affect care for veterans. Wilkie echoed that sentiment on Sunday. 

VA cares for more than 9 million veterans, about half of which are older than 65 -- a population at higher risk for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

As of Sunday, VA reported 2,699 cases of veterans testing positive for the virus and at least 103 deaths. VA said it had administered nearly 25,000 tests nationwide. 

VA has four main missions: to care for veterans and their families, train medical professionals, conduct research and to serve as a last line of defense for all Americans in national health emergencies. 

VA is a last line of defense in the US against national medical emergencies like pandemics

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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