Virginia hospital group urges federal government to open military and veterans hospitals to COVID-19 care

Virginia hospital group urges federal government to open military and veterans hospitals to COVID-19 care
Those facilities include Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, and Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond. (Source: pixabay)

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, a powerful industry group representing some of the state’s biggest health care systems, is asking the federal government to open up military and veterans’ hospitals across the commonwealth in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter Monday to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), VHHA President Sean Connaughton asked the senator to “urge the secretary of defense and secretary of veterans affairs” to open seven facilities for “patient testing, admission, and care of COVID-19 patients.”

Those facilities include Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, and Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond.

“Virginia military bases have on-site acute care hospitals and clinics in many of the communities where the projected impact of COVID-19 is expected to intensify,” Connaughton wrote. “The same is also true for the acute care hospitals and clinics operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Given that both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have postponed or canceled all non-emergency elective procedures and many clinical operations, we are aware that they currently have significant capacity in these facilities,” he continued.

The push for capacity comes amid continuing uncertainty over the ability of Virginia’s hospitals to handle a significant increase in coronavirus patients. As of Tuesday, the commonwealth has 1,250 known cases with 165 hospitalizations and 27 deaths.

During weekly press briefings, Virginia Secretary of Health Dr. Daniel Carey has estimated that the state has 2,000 ICU beds, each with an accompanying ventilator. In severe cases, respiratory equipment is often used to help patients whose lungs have been damaged by the disease.

Officials have ordered an additional 350 ventilators from the National Strategic Stockpile, Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam, said last week. The state’s six regional health care coalitions have an additional 400 ventilators “that can be deployed to hospitals if necessary,” wrote Julian Walker, the vice president of communications for VHHA, in a March 18 email.

In total, the state has more than 18,500 licensed hospital beds. The Virginia Department of Health is also prepared to relax its certificate of public need regulations, allowing hospitals to quickly add capacity without state approval.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.