VA officials force virus-exposed staff to go back to work or face AWOL penalties despite lack of PPE
The conservatives loves them their veterans!
It seems, however, that they’d rather run around protesting public health and safety measures instituted by their states’ governors than demanding better treatment of the Veterans Affairs Department employees who are tasked with treating those former armed forces members who’ve contracted COVID-19.
Otherwise, the people who foolishly risk their own lives and those in their communities would be out in the streets demanding action against the administration that is pressuring workers at the VA to return to work even after they’ve been exposed to the deadly coronavirus.
That is exactly what the senior officials at the VA are doing even now at the height of the pandemic, according to a report on the website of Government Executive, that says:
“Employees at the Veterans Affairs Department are feeling pressured to return to work even after they’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus—a new VA policy requires them to continue showing up, and threatens discipline along with the possibility of losing pay for those who stay home.”
Government Executive spoke to workers at half a dozen VA facilities and found that they universally complained that “management was providing inconsistent guidance and creating unsafe working conditions.”
The VA employees are fearful that some of their colleagues may be concealing their symptoms at a point where personal protective gear is in short supply and the chance of further spreading the virus is unreasonably high.
According to the report:
“To date, more than 5,000 patients and 1,600 staff at VA facilities have tested positive for COVID-19; more than 300 patients and more than a dozen staff have died from the disease. Until recently at some facilities, staff told Government Executive, some administrative staff were not even allowed to wear masks, either because there weren’t enough to go around and they were being reserved for medical personnel with more sustained patient contact, or because supervisors were worried about alarming patients and visitors.”
The tales being told by frightened and angry VA workers demonstrate the complete lack of preparedness with which the Trump administration has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in the healthcare system dedicated to the nation’s veterans.
“At some facilities, VA officials have instituted policies under which employees who worked with COVID-19 positive patients before their status was known—and therefore were not wearing the proper equipment—should continue to work until they develop symptoms, after which they could be tested for the virus. In some cases, those employees included nurses and doctors who subsequently tested positive for the virus but returned after seven days when their symptoms were no longer evident, employees said. One memorandum sent by a top official at a medical center in Indianapolis saidVA facilities should consider enabling employees ‘who have had an exposure to a COVID-19 patient to continue to work after options to improve staffing have been exhausted.’”
Any employee who follows the guidelines from leading health experts to self-isolate after potentially being exposed to an infected patient faces the risk of being labeled “absent without leave,” having their paychecks cut off, and affecting their opportunities for future promotions and raises. Even if they have available sick days, supervisors can reject their requests to utilize it.
VA administrators are telling workers who have actually tested positive for the virus but are not experiencing symptoms to simply wear a mask and return to work according to the article. That would be bad enough but with shortages of PPE, rationing of masks at the VA had one worker in a high-risk unit complaining that she and her colleagues had to keep reusing their masks “until they are falling from our faces.”
The Government Executive article is rife with detailed accounts from VA facilities across the country, including this chilling story from a clinic in Anniston, Alabama where five employees tested positive for the COVID-19 virus yet the VA kept the clinic open and required all employees to keep reporting for duty.
“’This clinic is a petri dish,’ the employee said. Staff there is ‘panicked,’ she said, because one of those who tested positive was a supervisor who ‘has come in contact with everyone in the clinic.’ It is also an outlier, as VA employees around the country said their facility was not authorizing tests for any employees who were asymptomatic.” the story reports.
You can read the entire Government Executive article with its multiplicity of similarly harrowing accounts of the Veterans Affairs Administration’s failures to care for its employees — and subsequently the veterans who need to use its facilities — at this link. It’s well worth the time to read the lengthy, well-researched story in full.
Let’s hope that one of the increasingly brave reporters who dare question Donald Trump about the enormity of his administration’s failures in confronting the pandemic crisis at the daily propaganda sessions masquerading as press briefings confronts him with the details in this article.
Whoever does so is sure to be called “nasty” or “fake” by a president who only sees perfection in his response to the coronavirus crisis — right before Trump figures out who to use as a scapegoat for this particular screwup.
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Original reporting by Erik Katz at Government Executive.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.