FEMA: Florida veterans hospitals can admit non-veterans during pandemic

The state Department of Health may request the assistance for community hospitals, if needed.
A sign notifying vehicles of a coronavirus roadside screening checkpoint as vehicles enter the Bay Pines VA Hospital on March 16 in Bay Pines.
A sign notifying vehicles of a coronavirus roadside screening checkpoint as vehicles enter the Bay Pines VA Hospital on March 16 in Bay Pines. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 30, 2020|Updated July 31, 2020

Florida veterans hospitals are able to admit non-veteran patients if requested by the Florida Department of Health to assist community hospitals in treating patients with or without the coronavirus, according to Mary Kay Rutan, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs network that oversees medical facilities in Florida.

As of Thursday, there have been no requests for this assistance, Rutan added.

It’s the second mission assignment for Florida veterans hospitals from the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the pandemic.

Since mid-April, Florida veterans facilities, including the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System based in St. Petersburg and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, also have deployed clinical staff to support community nursing homes across the state. Thirty-five staffers from Bay Pines and 41 from the Tampa veterans healthcare system have supported this mission, according to hospital spokespersons.

Both facilities have had to reduce some services for veterans during the pandemic.

As of Thursday morning, the Bay Pines system reported 89 patients currently with COVID-19 and nine total known deaths.

“Non-acute surgeries and the reopening of additional primary and specialty clinics remains on hold,” said Bay Pines spokeswoman Anna Hancock in an email. The facility has two intensive care units, she said, and “the capability of expanding, depending on the demands for inpatient services.”

“Our medical intensive care unit designated for patients with (the) coronavirus is at 54 percent capacity,” she added, saying the figure doesn’t account for the expansion capability.

The Tampa veterans system has, since July 7, “postponed elective procedures that require admission to the hospital,” said spokeswoman Shayna Rodriguez in an email. Critical procedures and those that do not require admission, such as outpatient procedures, are not impacted, she said.

In Tampa, 22 percent of the intensive care unit beds are available, she said.

As of Thursday morning, the Tampa system reported 103 patients currently with COVID-19 and 15 total deaths.

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