Apr 25, 2020 - Health

Veterans Affairs acknowledges personal protective equipment shortage

Medication used for COVID-19 patients are separated on the counter
The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Image

The executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Post that the system faces a shortage of masks and personal protective equipment after VA officials initially denied the insufficiencies.

Why it matters: "The shortages, and the agency’s claims that they did not exist, have been a low point in what observers say is an otherwise commendable response by VA to the pandemic," the Post writes.

The state of play: Stone claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency told vendors with orders from the VA to send that equipment to FEMA so the federal government's dwindling emergency stockpile could be refilled.

“The supply system was responding to FEMA. I couldn’t tell you when my next delivery was coming in," Richard Stone, the VA's health chief, told the Post.

  • Meanwhile, the VA’s 4-week supply of equipment — in 170 medical centers — was depleted, as the system used approximately 200,000 masks in a day, Stone said.
  • After VA Secretary Robert Wilkie appealed to FEMA officials this past week, FEMA said it provided the VA with 500,000 masks, but made no mention of diverting equipment to the national stockpile, the Post notes.
  • Stone said a similar shipment arrived last week, allowing him to ease policies so VA employees working directly with coronavirus patients could get one face mask a day.
  • He also noted the system was newly able to test staff for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

The impact: VA employees have organized protests, saying they were unsafe.

  • Meanwhile, the Labor Department is reportedly investigating a union complaint that employees at one VA hospital were ordered to continue working after they believed they contracted COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, Senate Democrats on the Trump administration, in a letter to Vice President Pence, to get supplies to VA hospitals, per the Post.

Models indicated the coronavirus could put as many as 200,000 of the 9 million veterans in VA’s system in the hospital.

  • So far, the numbers have fallen short of those estimates, the Post writes.
  • The system is now reaching out to help veterans in state facilities.

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