James H. Quillen VA making adjustments to campus amid COVID-19 pandemic

Local Coronavirus Coverage

MOUNTAIN HOME, Tenn. (WJHL) – The James H. Quillen VA health facility in Johnson City is taking further steps to ensure the health and safety of all patients.

The facility remains operating under its normal hours, however, there are expected to be a number of changes happening this week and the weeks to follow. 

Colleen Noe, the Associate Director of the VA, told News Channel 11 that they will be limiting access points to the campus starting Monday, March 23rd. Only two gates will be open to patients. The entrance at Lamont Street and the entrance on State of Franklin Road across from ETSU will be the only ways to access the campus.

Currently, staff members are working on conducting traffic studies to ensure that these changes do not impact traffic flow on any major roadways such as State of Franklin Road.

VA staff said the plan is to have an initial screening of patients near the entrances where patients would be expected to answer a few questions put in place by the CDC regarding COVID-19 symptoms and exposure. 

After answering the questions, the patient will either be directed on to their appointment or sent to a secondary testing facility where they will undergo a medical screening and be asked additional questions regarding symptoms and travel.

“If they answer yes to any of those questions, we put a mask on those patients and take them to a second-level screening area. We’re currently doing that inside the building and we’re just moving our screening process outside a little bit to our perimeter,” said Noe. 

At this time, the facility has been screening and testing patients for COVID-19 in its emergency rooms and outpatient facilities. While the Department of Veterans Affairs did announce a positive case at their Knoxville outpatient facility, there has not yet been a positive test at the Johnson City VA campus. 

Staff tells News Channel 11 that the reasoning for moving the secondary location outside is to prevent the spread of germs inside their facilities and risk of exposure to hospital staff and other patients. 

It’s important to note that this secondary testing facility located in a tent near the campuses valet parking lot, will not be a drive-thru testing center but does have the capability to conduct testing there. 

Noe said she believes this measure will help ensure both patients and staff stay in good health. “We’re constantly looking at what processes we need to change in the hospital, how we need to change them, and adjusting as we go,” she said. 

Although the hospital is remaining open and operating their normal hours, they do encourage anyone who may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Over the weekend, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement encouraging VA hospitals to resort to using over the phone or video methods for check-ups.

While the VA has not been restricted to just Telehealth visits, they are well-versed in this technology and hospital staff said they use it year-round, totaling close to 25,000 Telehealth visits a year. David Hecht, the Chief of staff at the James H. Quillen VA said he recommends using Telehealth methods, especially during this time. 

“Really we want to keep folks that don’t have to be here away from the campus. the only thing that’s going to happen is they’re going to come in close contact with other folks who may be currently asymptomatic but may be carrying the virus, and we want to keep social distancing,” said Hecht.

Veterans advocate and President of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, Ernie Rumsby, also weighed in on the changes being made to the VA. While he is encouraging social distancing and handwashing, he says if you don’t need to necessarily go to the VA, take the precaution and conduct your appointment through offered Telehealth methods, if possible.

“We’ve never been through something like this before, and everybody is going to have to play a part, everybody is going to have to unite, and everybody is going to have to make some sacrifices,” said Rumsby. 

Officials with the VA said after they conduct the traffic studies, they hope to open the tent secondary testing facility later this week.

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