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Concerns inside VA about coronavirus testing, medicine and staff shortages

Watchdog found coronavirus screening could be improved at more than a quarter of facilities.

Department of Veterans Affairs building in DC, July 2019
Department of Veterans Affairs building in DC, July 2019
(ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images)
Updated: March 26, 2020 - 9:26pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

More than a quarter of Veterans Administration medical centers reviewed could improve their COVID-19 screening processes, and leaders at some facilities worry they may run short of medicines and staff during the pandemic, the agency's chief watchdog reported Thursday.

Screening processes could improve at 28 percent of the medical centers reviewed by the VA Inspector General, but were generally adequate at 71 percent of the medical centers reviewed, according to the watchdog’s report. Screening processes were found to be inadequate at the Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System.

The Inspector General checked on 237 VA facilities that included 58 medical centers, 125 community-based outpatient clinics and 54 community living centers, according to the report.

The report revealed that the medical facilities reviewed did not have in-house COVID-19 testing.

"Almost all medical facilities visited were collecting COVID-19 specimens, but none had the capability to process them on site. Facility leaders indicated that the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (a site not visited by OIG) was processing specimens," the IG reported.

People at VA facilities indicated that they could potentially face an inadequate supply of needed medicines.

"Facility leaders reported that the medication inventory used to (1) manage symptoms, (2) treat critically ill patients to support cardiovascular functions, and (3) sedate intubated patients may be insufficient. Some facility leaders expressed concerns with their inventory of COVID-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment supplies," the IG's report summary noted.

Nine VA facility leaders indicated an insufficient ICU nursing staff, with four of the leaders noting that while they have enough ICU nurses now, they would not have enough in the future if they experienced an influx of patients.

"Nine facility leaders reported deficient ICU nurse staffing. Of those, four reported that they were currently staffed but would not be in the event of a surge of patients," the report states. "The other five reported needing additional nurses for various reasons, including school closures, spring break, staff absences, and the fact that nursing staff are being asked to operate screening stations. One facility said it is currently managing by using overtime pay," the report notes.