The Chillicothe VA Medical Center is working on a Moving Forward Plan to expand the availability of health care services as Ohio continues reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The priority remains maintaining a safe environment for all veterans and employees.
Since June 1, limited face-to-face services for routine care have been available in primary care, mental health and outpatient specialty services. This includes services at the Community Based Outpatient Centers (CBOCs) in Athens, Cambridge, Lancaster, Marietta, Portsmouth, Wilmington. To enhance safety, many waiting rooms have been modified to support social distancing and sneeze shields have been installed in many areas to reduce respiratory droplet exposure. We will continue to closely monitor coronavirus activity in the local community and the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus testing materials to determine when we can safely expand services further.
These face-to-face services are in addition to the expanded virtual care services that are currently being offered. Virtual care services, via Video on Demand or telephone, are readily available and, when appropriate, may be preferred to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure. Any urgent or emergent care issues will continue to be addressed and Urgent Care services remain available on the main campus.
“The safety of veterans and staff is the highest priority when we consider how we provide health care services and procedures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Kathy Berger, medical center director, said. “VA will take into account guidance from various agencies including federal, state and local government as we gradually reintroduce health care services. As a high reliability organization, safety is always paramount and will continue to guide our decision making.”
Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA) has developed a risk-based framework to prioritize non-urgent procedures, in addition to the urgent procedures currently being performed. Evaluation of factors such as patient health, staff safety and resource considerations will guide expansions and scheduling decisions. Rigorous safety measures including employee and veteran COVID-19 screening, physical distancing and appropriate personal protective attire such as face coverings and frequent disinfection of high-touch services will remain in place at all VHA facilities.
As we move forward, the following processes are being put into effect:
· Veterans will be contacted ahead of their face-to-face appointment to be screened for coronavirus related symptoms such as fever, cough or muscle aches. If any of these are present, the care team will determine how best to deliver the necessary care.
· All who enter the campus are required to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. Cloth or homemade masks may help protect others from a person who could unknowingly be transmitting a coronavirus. The VA will provide a mask to veterans who do not have one available to them. Be aware that wearing a mask does not replace the practice of hand hygiene and every day preventative actions to avoid exposure to the virus:
· Inpatient units continue to be closed to visitors until further notice.
· Call your health care provider if you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID.
The VA continues to be committed to providing veterans quality health care and meeting their daily heath needs with minimized risk to this virus. A variety of at-home resources and virtual care options include the following. For more information about VA’s Connected Care technologies, visit connectedcare.va.gov.
Secure Messaging – With My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal, veterans can send online secure messages to their VA health care team to ask them non-urgent health questions. Register at myhealth.va.gov. Contact your local My HealtheVet representative at the Chillicothe VA, 740-773-1141, ext. 6230 or 6372, with any questions.
Telephone or Video Appointments – Veterans may receive care at home using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones or tablets. To set up telephone or video appointments, Veterans can contact their health care provider. To learn more about VA Video Connect visit mobile.va.gov/app/va-video-connect, or contact your local telehealth team at the Chillicothe VA, 740-773-1141, extension 6372 or 6391.
Prescription Refills and Safety – Veterans should continue taking all medications as prescribed and talk to their health care provider if they have any concerns. Veterans may request prescription refills and order shipments of medications to their homes using My HealtheVet or the Rx Refill mobile app, which can be downloaded at mobile.va.gov/app/rx-refill. VA’s Safe Home Environment handout provides information on safely storing medications in the home.
Mental Health Information and Resources – VA provides information on ways for veterans and their families to maintain and enhance their mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak. Information about managing stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health resources, are available at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/coronavirus/resources.
Text Message Reminders – Veterans can use Annie’s Coronavirus Precautions protocol to send automated text messages with information about COVID-19. This application helps veterans monitor their symptoms and can assist those who need to contact their VA facility for care. Veterans may enroll in the app at mobile.va.gov/annie.
For more information or with questions about the restart of VA services, call 740-773-1141.
Submitted by Stacia Ruby, public affairs officer, Chillicothe VA Medical Center.