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'A number of our staff have tested positive': COVID-19 causes staffing shortage at Boise VA Medical Center

The staffing shortage comes as the medical center struggles to stay below capacity.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Boise is struggling to keep its patient levels below 100% capacity. 

The COVID-19 pandemic impacting not only the veterans who are seeking care but also the staff who care for them.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we have been full, kind of on-and-off of being full,” said David Wood, director of the Boise VA Medical Center.

On Monday, the hospital had to divert patients because they were at capacity. On Tuesday, Wood said, they were about 95% full.

The VA is currently treating nine COVID-19 patients in the hospital. They run the spectrum in terms of what condition they’re in.

“Obviously they’re sick enough they need to be in the hospital,” Wood said. “Typically, they would need oxygen, they need medications, and some of them need help just basically breathing.”

The VA is in phase one of its three-part surge plan.

“We've opened three additional ICU beds over the last two weeks to try and care for the increased patients we've gotten,” Wood said.

If the VA and local hospitals reach capacity, then the VA would advance to stage two. This would open up more beds at the facility.

“What it would mean for us is that we would have to pull staff from other areas of the hospital,” Wood said.

Doing so would stop elective surgeries, and staff members normally assigned to that would be diverted to inpatient units.

“This COVID has really been a strain on our staff,” Wood said. “A number of our staff have tested positive. Right now we have 62 staff that are out due to COVID.”

Those staff members are in quarantine because they have either tested positive for the virus or they have come into close contact with someone who has it. Additional staff members are out due to an outbreak at the Idaho State Veterans Home. Medical center staff members were sent there to help out.

The pandemic has been causing a delay in care for some veterans.

“We have a backlog of care that we are trying to catch up on,” Wood said. “I think it will take us several months to catch up once this [pandemic] is over.”

Some veterans have switched over to telehealth, while others are waiting for in-person care amid staff shortages.

“I think just about all of our veterans have been impacted in some way, shape or form,” Wood said.

His message to Idahoans during the week of Veteran’s Day is to help protect the veterans who have served the country.

“I think each one of us can have a part in protecting vulnerable veterans,” he said. “Doing the basics of things that are proven like wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding gatherings.”

Earlier this week, Gov. Brad Little wrote an op-ed, saying it’s the people’s turn to protect veterans from a new enemy.

In it, he talked about the many sacrifices veterans have made for the country. He asked Idahoans to make a minor sacrifice for veterans, by keeping a distance from others, wearing a mask, and washing your hands.

Facts not fear: More on coronavirus

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