Veterans hospitals face record employee deaths from COVID – NBC4 Washington

Despite a vaccination mandate for federal workers and months of efforts to add protective equipment and protocols, July and August were the deadliest months since the start of the pandemic for workers at veterans medical centers. from the country.

An internal memo from the US Department of Veterans Affairs said the VA, “has continued to see increasing numbers of COVIDs and staff calling in sick. Sadly, this month marked the highest number of employee deaths linked to COVID-19 than at any time during the pandemic. ”

The memo and a series of News4 I-Team interviews also revealed growing concerns about staff shortages due to quarantines, isolation orders and retirements triggered by the current coronavirus threat to the inside some medical centers.

VA reports 203 employee deaths from COVID-19, including four in Maryland; three in Washington, DC; and two in Martinsburg, West Virginia, since March 2020. But in an alert sent to employees in July, the agency announced a vaccination warrant, citing a series of deaths this summer among unvaccinated employees. The agency also said there was a third outbreak at the VA law enforcement training center over the summer.

The agency has distributed a prolific number of COVID-19 vaccines to its patients, employees and other officials. On Wednesday, the agency reported distributing 3.5 million vaccines to veterans and 318,610 to employees. The vaccination rate is particularly high in veterans’ medical and clinical centers in the DC area, according to union officials and hospital administrators.

But the delta variant of the virus continues to impact the functioning of many of the agency’s hospitals, exacerbating staff shortages through required quarantines, sick leave and pensions, according to several officials who spoke to the agency. ‘I-Team.

“We have vaccines, but COVID is COVID, so we have (worker) shortages,” said Stanley Snow, a union leader who represents 3,000 workers at the VA flagship hospital in DC.

Snow said infections contracted by patients and community staff end up impacting and exposing hospital staff. Snow said sickness calls and staff quarantines increase the burden on remaining employees, triggering overtime, weekend work and burnout.

“It will have a deep and long term impact,” he said.

Washington DC VA Medical Center Director Michael Heimall said the hospital had suffered less severe staffing impacts from COVID than other hospitals, but acknowledged the continuing threat from the virus.

“The schools are open; the spouses go back to the office and to work, ”he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more cases where our staff will get infected through home or community contacts or have to stay home and care for family members who may have an infection. “

At Martinsburg VA Medical Center, director Kenneth Allensworth said the hospital had significantly increased its staff in 2020 to avoid shortages.

“At the start of the pandemic, we saw the need to create a contingency plan, which we did,” he said. “We added nurses and technicians ahead of our anticipated needs. “

The Maryland VA Health Care System said it had also increased its staff during the first months of the pandemic. In a statement to the I-Team, a spokeswoman said: “Since mid-August, we have seen an increase in the number of staff required to stay home and self-quarantine. When this happens, we move employees as needed to provide the appropriate coverage. Since the onset of COVID-19, the VA Maryland Health Care System has deployed more than 30 staff to other VA medical centers and state veterans homes across the country to provide personnel support. “

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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