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Tampa Bay veterans hospitals resuming elective services

The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking a phased approach to bringing back more in-person care to preserve capacity for any COVID-19 surges.
A sign notifying vehicle of a Coronavirus roadside screening checkpoint as vehicles enter the Bay Pines VA Hospital at Bay Pines VA, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Bay Pines.
A sign notifying vehicle of a Coronavirus roadside screening checkpoint as vehicles enter the Bay Pines VA Hospital at Bay Pines VA, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, on Monday, March 16, 2020 in Bay Pines. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 20, 2020

All Florida veterans hospitals are slowly resuming elective surgeries and procedures in a phased approach to ensure the facilities remain ready for COVID-19 outbreaks.

“It’s important for us to be prepared for any surge in COVID patients that may come up as communities are re-opening,” said Mary Kay Rutan, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs network that oversees medical centers in Florida.

Medical centers will call patients about scheduling in-person appointments, which will be prioritized by clinical need, Rutan added.

On Monday, both the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in St. Petersburg and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa began the first phase of their transition plan by offering elective procedures in ophthalmology, orthopedic, urology and other areas.

Both medical centers, however, continue to encourage patients to use online and over-the-phone services when possible. The Veterans Integrated Service Network 8 Clinical Contact Center at 1-877-741-3400 provides 24-hour response to health questions or concerns.

Safety measures at both hospital systems will continue, including visitor limitations for inpatient and residential areas and COVID-19 testing on all admitted patients, including just prior to surgery.

“Universal masking remains in effect, and physical distancing practices have been enhanced with changes to waiting areas, check-in desks and through scheduling of staggered appointments,” said Melanie Thomas, spokeswoman for Bay Pines in an email. “High-touch sanitation procedures have been in place since mid-March.”

Similar measures have been taken at James Haley, which also offers a cell phone lot in the parking garage for caregivers. They cannot accompany a veteran to his or her appointment unless it is medically required, but they can wait in the lot for pick-up, said Edward Drohan, spokesman for the hospital.

Later phases of reopening will include in-person primary care and mental health appointments, Rutan said. The network in Florida has seen success in patients adapting to virtual services in the meantime, she said.

As of May 19, there were 387 COVID-19 cases among veterans in Florida, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of those, there were 21 known deaths.

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