VA hospital in Virginia evacuates patients ahead of hurricane, 18 clinics close
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 13, 2018
WASHINGTON — More than 200 veterans receiving treatment at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in coastal Virginia were loaded onto buses Wednesday afternoon and dispersed among five other VA hospitals throughout Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
The Hampton VA Medical Center was within the mandatory evacuation area ordered by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ahead of Hurricane Florence, now a category 2 storm that began lashing the North Carolina coast on Thursday afternoon. The storm was expected to move slowly and bring extensive rainfall and high winds to Virginia, North and South Carolinas and surrounding states.
Appointments scheduled at the Hampton hospital from Thursday to Monday were canceled, and the emergency room is shut down until Sunday. All employees had left the facility by 8 p.m. Wednesday.
At 3 a.m. Wednesday, 86 patients from Hampton arrived in Martinsburg, W.Va. About 100 patients and staff were sent to the Richmond VA Medical Center in Virginia, where employees on Wednesday afternoon helped unload veterans in wheelchairs and on stretchers. The remaining 31 were transferred to Salem, Va., Salisbury, N.C., and Durham, N.C., all of which are expected to remain open during the storm.
“We’re honored for the opportunity to help ensure the safety of veterans in our sister facility,” the Richmond hospital posted to its social media pages.
At their new locations, veterans received care packages including basic necessities, such as toothpaste, mouthwash and combs. In Durham, Marine Corps veteran Carl Watson sat outside of the community living center, offering a welcoming message to Hampton patients.
“I’ve been coming here to the Durham VA for quite some time,” Watson said in a video posted to the Durham VA Facebook page. “They take care of me, they always been taking care of me.”
So far, the Hampton hospital is the only VA medical center that’s been completely closed because of Hurricane Florence. Across Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, 18 smaller community clinics were closed. The VA estimated the storm would affect more than 740,000 veterans in the three-state area who are enrolled in VA health care services.
In North Carolina, the Durham hospital closed its ambulatory and specialty clinics, but its inpatient units and emergency room are open. Fayetteville planned to close its health care center and rehabilitation clinic Friday, but its inpatient services and urgent care center will remain open. The VA hospitals in Salisbury and Ashville are also open.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., closed its outpatient clinics through this weekend. Its inpatient care units and emergency room are open, and employees were told to shelter in place at the hospital.
All of the facilities staying open have replenished their energy and oxygen equipment and are supplied with enough food to last through Sept. 29, the VA said.
On Thursday, the VA was readying two mobile pharmacy units and 16 mobile veteran centers to send to Richmond and Salisbury to offer medical care, medication and counseling to people affected by the storm.
The VA is encouraging veterans and their families who have questions to call the Veteran Hurricane Hotline at 1-800-507-4571. A rolling update on VA closures is available at blogs.va.gov.