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VA in SLC: ‘We’re doing a lot better than other areas’ during pandemic

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SALT LAKE CITY — How is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caring for the nation’s current and former warriors during the coronavirus pandemic?

Dr. John Nord, deputy chief of staff at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City,  joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss how Utah’s VA facilities are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The VA in the pandemic

“What is the situation the VA facility [in Salt Lake City] is facing right now?” Lee asked.

“What we’ve faced is not unlike the rest of Utah, which is a little bit less than what we anticipated up to this point. And we’re doing a lot better than other areas,” Nord said.

He said the VA has spent the past two months preparing for the pandemic. Nord said he was grateful to the state government, the health care partners and the community for helping to flatten the coronavirus curve and giving the VA time to prepare for a surge in patients infected with COVID-19.

Getting ready just in case

“How is the VA dealing with possible patients to the Salt Lake City hospital?” Lee asked.

“We can screen people in their cars. We can bring them into the triage tent if they look like they might be sick and need a little bit more evaluation. We can do all that while keeping them out of the hospital and try to minimize the infectious nature of this pandemic,” Nord said.

Nord said the VA hospital has increased the number of negative-pressure rooms for the pandemic and tripled the ICU beds in the facility.

“Thankfully, we haven’t had to use them like we anticipated early on,” he said.

Negative pressure

Hospitals and medical centers use negative-pressure rooms to prevent cross-contamination from room to room. By using pressure lower than of the surroundings, air flows into the isolation room but can’t escape from the it.

“There’s a mechanical ventilation device that will suck all the air out of the room instead of blowing it into the room like we have in our house or in other places. ” Nord said.

The air, which may contain droplets with the coronavirus, is then vented outside through filters and not introduced back into the hospital.

Virtual visits

“What is the experience of a visitor seeking treatment at a VA facility like now in contrast with the pre-coronavirus era?” Lee asked.

“We’ve tried to convert as many visits as we can to virtual visits, so patients never have to come near the hospital and might come into contact with someone who could have the virus. That way they can stay home and stay safe.

“Of course, if we need to see them, we make arrangements,” Nord said. “So, essentially, we have put all the potentially viral patients in one area of the hospital. We see them in our triage tent area and keep them away from the area where we might be seeing people who have a totally different problem that’s not related to a viral illness.”

Handling visitors

“If the patient does need to visit your facility, do you have stipulations on number of guests and caretakers assisting in bringing them in?” Lee asked.

“Yes. We don’t want visitors coming in to the extent possible,” Nord said. “But as you know, many of our veterans need someone to help them with their appointments. Maybe they don’t understand all of the instructions they get or maybe they’re not physically capable of getting themselves to appointments.

“Those people are certainly allowed to come in, wear a mask and be present when we’re dealing with appointments. We see that frequently.”

Leave the kids at home

Because children have been identified as asymptomatic carriers of the virus, Nord said they should be left at home when possible.

“We don’t want to have visiting children and we don’t want to have visiting relatives like we normally would when you have someone in the hospital, and you want to go see them, and you want to see how they’re doing. We’re discouraging that now unless that family member needs to be there,” he said.

If the hospital sees a surge in patients because of the pandemic, Nord said the VA can use video chatting between patients and their families.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

Coronavirus resources

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States