JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) – While some nursing homes are being ravaged by COVID-19, the total number of patients currently in Department of Veterans Affairs nursing homes nationwide who’ve tested positive for the virus can be counted on one hand.
That’s according to the United States Secretary of the VA Robert Wilkie.
“We have two veterans who are positive in our nursing homes out of 75-hundred,” said Secretary Wilkie in a one-on-one interview with News Channel 11’s Josh Smith.
The President’s pick to oversee veteran care says that stunningly low number of 2 current Covid-19 cases across the VA’s 340 nursing homes could serve as a model for other health care providers on how to stop the spread of the virus.
“That’s because we took emergency measures early on,” he said.
Secretary Wilkie said the VA continues its deployment of “The Fourth Mission” first initiated earlier this year as the Covid-19 pandemic began to worsen. That’s the VA’s term for supporting the national response to a crisis or disaster.
He said the VA already has deployed staff and resources to healthcare facilities across the country, and he says hospitals stand ready to accept civilian patients if local hospitals can’t handle the demand for Covid-19 care.
“We are prepared to do more as the Governor’s request,” said Secretary Wilkie.
He said about 700 veterans are being treated for COVID-19 in VA hospitals nationwide. About 2000 of the nation’s 9.5 million veterans have died. As of Tuesday, three of the deceased veterans have received care through the Mountain Home VA Hospital network based in Johnson City.
“If anything good has come out of this its allowed us to increase our reach particularly in rural America. That is where most veterans reside,” he said.
Secretary Wilkie said the pandemic set the stage for a rapid increase in tele-health improving access to caregiver for veterans forced to stay home.
“We’re doing tele-health appointments in numbers we never thought possible. And that is actually the way of the future.”
He said the increase of tele-health capabilities has helped to reduce the backlog of veterans waiting for claims.
Secretary Wilkie said he’s very concerned about the mental health impact on America’s veterans.
He said in normal month before the pandemic, VA hospitals conducted an average 40,000 mental health appointments. As of now, he says the VA is on track to do more than 900,000 mental health visits this month alone.
That’s why he says the VA’s post-pandemic goal is to help restore normal life for veterans who depend on the VA for care.
“We want them to return. We want them to return when it’s safe. And get back into their regular rhythm.