VA chief says Phoenix center is handling coronavirus

Jun 29, 2020, 2:00 PM
(Getty Images/Christian Petersen)...
(Getty Images/Christian Petersen)
(Getty Images/Christian Petersen)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix VA, once mired in a scandal of long wait times to see a doctor, is keeping up with patient care during the coronavirus crisis, the nation’s top Veterans Affairs official said Monday.

“Phoenix VA is fine right now,” Robert Wilkie said on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

President Donald Trump’s secretary of Veterans Affairs is scheduled to visit the Valley’s site later in the day.

“We got on this early [the department set up its first emergency operations center at the end of January],” he said of the VA health care system’s response plan to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have not had a perceptible problem in terms of having beds available or in terms of massive numbers of veterans being impacted,” Wilkie said.

As of Monday morning, there were 74,533 cases in Arizona, based on the state health department’s incomplete daily report.

The Arizona Department of Health Services said a lab partner did not meet the daily data submission deadline but expected the numbers to be caught up with Tuesday’s report.

Wilkie said one of the reasons the VA has been able to tamp down the numbers is because everyone in a VA nursing home is tested.

“That’s why we have such a low rate of infection amongst our 7,500 nursing home residents,” he said, adding as of Sunday there were 11 positive tests overall at the homes.

Outside of the nursing homes, not everyone who wants a test gets one, Wilkie said.

“We test veterans when they need it,” he said, pointing out that the agency recently began using rapid testing and has tested “hundreds of thousands of veterans.”

Wilkie said telehealth was going to play a big role in the future of medicine for veterans, particularly those struggling emotionally.

In the next few years, he said, a partnership with Walmart will put telehealth clinics in stores’ pharmacy areas, including Arizona.

“Veterans can come in and talk to our doctors, our specialists – that’s the wave of the future. Keep people out of clinical settings, put them in a comfortable environment.”

Wilkie said there hadn’t an increase in veteran suicides during the isolation of the outbreak.

“I think that goes with any crisis in this country, be it an economic crisis [or] a medical crisis. People tend to look after after their neighbors more carefully.”

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VA chief says Phoenix center is handling coronavirus