VA Suspends Visitation to Nursing Homes, Spinal Cord Centers amid Spread of Coronavirus

Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar speaks with a veteran during a visit to Alexander Nininger Veterans Nursing Home.
Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar speaks with a veteran during a visit to Alexander Nininger Veterans Nursing Home as part of Fleet Week Port Everglades, Pembroke Pines, FL, May 4, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Leynard Kyle Plazo)

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Veterans Affairs has banned virtually all visitors from its nursing homes and spinal cord injury centers to protect its most vulnerable patients as coronavirus cases increase across the country.

"While the [coronavirus] risk to average Americans remains low, these common-sense measures will help protect some of our most vulnerable patients," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Tuesday in a statement. "VA will make every effort to minimize the impact of these policies on veterans while putting patient safety first."

The VA announced all of its 134 nursing homes, which are home to more than 41,000 veterans, adopted a "no visitor" stance, meaning no outside visitors are permitted to see patients, according to the department. The only exception will be when veterans are in the last stages of life, at which time visitors will be limited to the patient's room. 

VA's 24 major spinal cord injury and disorder centers serve 24,000 veterans, whom the agency considers vulnerable to infection. These centers also are barring visitors but will have the same exception in the case of the veteran approaching the end of his or her life. All spinal facilities will avoid inpatient admittance for routine care and exams and will be directing those patients to outpatient care.

VA has the largest health care network in the country, tasked with caring for more than 9 million service members and veterans. Dozens of VA hospitals from across the country have been cracking down on visitations to quell the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the department's facilities. More than half of VA patients are older than 65, which is an especially vulnerable population to the disease. 

The department has at least six coronavirus patients in its care, with five of them waiting for official confirmation, a VA official said Tuesday. 

The single confirmed case is being treated as a patient at the VA in Palo Alto, Calif. Two others who tested positive but have not been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are at the VA Southern Nevada Health Care System in Las Vegas and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans.

The remaining three patients are quarantined at home after testing positive at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Denver and the VA Portland Health Care System in Oregon.

The number of cases of the virus in the United States now stands at 761 with 27 deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The VA urges veterans who think they are infected to call their health care provider before showing up at a hospital. 

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