VA’s Measures Protect Veterans and Healthcare Workers - VA Sunshine Healthcare Network
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VA Sunshine Healthcare Network


VA’s Measures Protect Veterans and Healthcare Workers

April 28, 2020

Uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have overtaken nearly every aspect of our lives in a few short months, and this concerning virus has us all looking at the world through a new lens. No longer do we spend our days going to work, making trips to grocery stores or greeting friends and neighbors with handshakes and hugs. Instead, we wear masks and make quick waves while our smiles go unseen.

Workers across industries are finding new ways to conduct business using ingenuity and innovation. Healthcare is no different, and across the globe we have seen medical professionals tested like never before. Yet, they too are finding new ways to serve their patients.

VA facilities in Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands planned and prepared for the likelihood we would be overcome by COVID-19 patients seeking care at our hospitals. Thankfully, we have not yet seen the overwhelming surge of patients experienced in other parts of the country, but we are ready.

In late February, we began virtually triaging patients through our VISN 8 Clinical Contact Center. This virtual hub ensured a warm hand-off to VA and community emergency departments throughout the state. Meanwhile, we have completed more than 630,000 telehealth visits representing a 364 percent increase in virtual care, expanded ICU bed capacity by at least 50 percent and were among the first healthcare systems to postpone elective surgeries. Because of the aggressive and necessary actions we took early, ICU beds, ventilators and other supplies have never been strained.  In fact, we even set aside resources to assist the community if needed.

VA facilities in Florida and Puerto Rico have judiciously managed current inventory while issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all who need it to remain safe. We implemented a universal masking program to ensure everyone in our buildings are offered a facemask and have taken actions to preserve and sterilize equipment for the future should it be needed.

Even now, as the number of COVID-19 patients slowly rise, we are selflessly answering the call of VA’s fourth mission - to support the nation in times of crisis by sending teams of healthcare professionals to community nursing home facilities experiencing staff shortages. This is not the first time our employees have answered the call, in the past few years they have supported Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and the State of Florida following the tragic Pulse Nightclub and Parkland Shootings. We stand in unity with those who need our help and we will get through this fight together.

Like everyone, we look optimistically to the future when we can responsibly relax some of the limitations that have been required during this unsettling time. We also strive to learn more about the virus and are actively involved in convalescent plasma treatment research, anti-body testing, and more.

We are proud to say, we are prepared now and for the future.

Miguel H. LaPuz, M.D. Network Director, VA Sunshine Healthcare System (VISN 8)

Serving more than 600,000 Veterans in Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Photo of Dr. Miguel Lapuz