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VA Health Care – Here for the Veterans of Today and Tomorrow

By Dr. Miguel H. Lapuz, MD, MBA
Network Director, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8)

Almost two years ago, when the world was beginning to experience the worst pandemic in modern times and we still did not understand how the coronavirus would behave or for how long, the VA responded quickly to meet the needs of our veteran patients in an ever-changing environment. environment.

Our patients trust VA to provide them with exceptional, well-coordinated care from the first day they enter our facility until the end of their life. Even during a pandemic.

We have taken immediate steps to keep our healthcare facilities safe: entry screening for COVID-19 symptoms, changes to waiting rooms, screening of our most vulnerable patients and those occupied, etc. Staff at our VISN 8 clinical contact center were the “first line of defense” triaging patients in a virtual environment, even conducting visits via video, phone or secure chat with physicians and nurse practitioners. Center staff have helped more than 2.4 million patients, with an 88% first contact resolution.

When much of the state, including community health systems, was closed, our doors remained open, including same-day appointments and emergency care. Since March 2020, we’ve made over 5.4 million in-person appointments. At the height of the pandemic, we experienced challenges in referring patients to community care providers as many specialists scaled back their operations. VA’s investment in the development and use of virtual care, long before the pandemic, gave our providers the flexibility to quickly convert in-person appointments to virtual visits unlike many healthcare providers around the world. private sector. More than 3.6 million virtual appointments have been made. Many of our patients continue to prefer these types of appointments even today due to the convenience of getting needed care no matter where they are.

In December 2020, we saw the promising rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and we focused a lot of energy on quickly vaccinating as many patients and staff as possible to help curb the pandemic. To date, we have administered over 778,000 vaccines in total. We continue these efforts today by providing booster shots to veterans, their spouses and caregivers; we know that vaccination is the best protection against this persistent virus.

Just when we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel in June of this year, the Delta variant wreaked havoc on healthcare systems nationwide and especially here in Florida. Significant increases in critical illnesses and hospitalizations have forced us to realign many staff members to care for critically ill patients.

As part of VA’s fourth mission to support communities during national disasters, VA facilities in Florida accepted transfers of COVID-19 patients from small rural community hospitals that were overwhelmed. At the start of the pandemic from April to September 2020, more than 200 VA employees provided essential support to 82 community care homes across the state, saving lives and mitigating spread and infection in the process. .

Fortunately, COVID-19 case rates have stabilized and we are seeing a sustained decrease in hospitalizations. We continue to make progress in returning many of our services to in-person appointments. Our employees persevered through the toughest days and nights while ensuring that our patients received the exceptional care they deserved and deserved.

What the world will look like in the months and years to come as we continue to manage healthcare operations is uncertain. However, one thing will remain constant: our enduring commitment to providing lifelong care to our nation’s heroes where and when they need it. As Florida continues to recover from this pandemic, we encourage all eligible veterans to contact their nearest VA facility to learn more about how VA is making it easier and safer than before to receive health care. that they need.

Dr. Miguel H. Lapuz, MD, MBA, is director of the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, which includes all VA healthcare facilities in Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. It oversees the delivery of health care through a system of eight hospitals (two of which are integrated) over 60 primary and specialty care outpatient clinics; eight nursing homes; and five homes. VISN 8 serves a population of 1.5 million veterans. More than 630,000 veterans actively use health care services at VISN 8 facilities.



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