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Coronavirus deaths among VA patients hit 400

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 24, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Deaths among coronavirus patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs reached 400 on Friday, up from only four deaths one month ago.

The VA reported there were 400 deaths and 6,363 positive cases of the virus as of early Friday. The death rate across the VA — the country’s largest health care system — continued to rise this week by an average of 4% each day.

In addition to patients, 20 employees of VA medical centers had died of the virus as of Thursday, and 1,937 were infected.

The data on patient deaths include only veterans who died at VA hospitals. It doesn’t include veterans not enrolled in the VA system, or VA patients who died at community hospitals rather than in VA facilities. There are also questions about the accuracy of the data posted to the VA’s website.

On Friday morning, the site showed 94 cases and two deaths at the Cleveland VA Medical Center. However, an internal memo at that facility showed there were 125 cases and 16 deaths as of Thursday. The VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the discrepancy.

Nearly half of the 400 veterans died at five VA facilities in some of the hardest-hit cities: Brooklyn and the Bronx, N.Y.; New Orleans; Detroit; and East Orange, N.J. The Brooklyn VA Medical Center had the most deaths, with 47, followed by the Bronx with 45, East Orange with 44, New Orleans with 33 and Detroit with 19.

Of the VA workers who died, three of them worked in Indianapolis and three in Reno, Nev.

New Orleans VA Medical Center, which has consistently reported the highest number of cases, has tested 454 veterans who were positive. Brooklyn reported 440 veterans with the virus, the Bronx had 432, East Orange had 409 and Washington, D.C., had 194.

The Bronx, East Orange and New Orleans each reported over 100 cases among their employees.

The department announced earlier this month that volunteers from other VA hospitals were traveling to affected areas, such as New Orleans and New York City, to help treat veterans.

The VA announced Monday it would speed up the purchase of a 470,000-square-foot hospital in north Texas. The facility, which will become a specialty care clinic within the VA North Texas Health Care System, will immediately be established as an overflow area for coronavirus patients. The site will hold 100 beds.

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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