VA providing COVID-19 resources and training to Pensacola nursing homes
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has started providing support and training to nursing homes in Pensacola.
A team of medical professionals from Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care Service recently deployed to the area at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bryan C. Matthews, director of the GCVHCS.
"We were asked to provide two teams that consisted of doctors, nurses and therapists to support state nursing homes," Matthews said. "The purpose was for our staff to serve as subject matter experts to help train front line nursing home staff in the use of (personal protective equipment), isolation techniques, environmental safety and in some instances, even provide direct patient care."
Matthews said the support effort fell in line with the VA's "fourth mission." VA traditionally provides veterans’ health care, benefits and memorial affairs. In times of national crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, VA takes on the fourth mission of providing services to the nation based on requests from states.
In mid-April, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced the VA would open some of its acute care and intensive care beds to non-veteran patients, lend mobile pharmacy trailers and provide what other support it could to communities without disrupting its own capacity to care for veterans.
“Helping veterans is our first mission, but in many locations across the country we’re helping states and local communities," Wilkie said in the announcement. "VA is in this fight not only for the millions of Veterans we serve each day; we’re in the fight for the people of the United States.”
Locally, Matthews said two teams of six people composed of medical personnel from facilities serving Pensacola; Panama City; Eglin Air Force Base; Biloxi, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama, have been dispatched to our area in response to a request of FEMA's Tallahassee office.
"Our staff here at the Medical Center, they're trained to handle pandemics and infectious disease," Matthews said. "And so, they have been trained, they have had experience, and as we have fought through this COVID crisis, they've had an opportunity to learn and modify procedures. So this combination of things allows them to go out to these facilities and help staff that may not in their day-to-day work be exposed to these types of things."
Currently, nearly 29% of the 604 COVID-19 cases in Escambia County involve either residents (144 cases) or staff (32 cases) of long-term care facilities. The actual percentage of total cases is impossible to give because long-term care cases are only listed if they are currently active cases, meaning the numbers fluctuate as additional patients test positive or previously confirmed cases test negative.
Of the 15 COVID-19 related deaths in Escambia County, 11 involve LTCs: four patients of the Brookdale Pensacola assisted-living facility have died, as have three patients and one staff member of the Southern Oaks Care Center nursing home. The facilities where the remaining three deaths occurred has not yet been reported.
Matthews said FEMA determined the specific facilities the medical teams were deployed to, and he could not speak to which facilities were and were not targeted.
He did confirm that there had been no COVID positives at the VA's Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola.
"We did have one veteran that called and notified us that they had tested in the community, and the result came back positive," Matthews said.
Matthews said GCVHCS has implemented health screenings for any veteran or employee or visitor entering its facilities. The health care system also suspended elective surgeries, and turned to virtual care to provide consultations and services for its population of approximately 33,000 veterans.
"The veteran community has been very supportive and understanding of what's going on and why we're doing things that we do," Matthews said. "I just want veterans to know that we are still open for business ans we're still here for them. Whether it's personal care or urgent care, we're here to make sure that their needs are taken care of in a safe environment."
Kevin Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8527.