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Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers Visited Orlando: Here’s What She Said About Their Pandemic Response

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Photo: Sydney Rae

Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers visited the Orlando VA Hospital today.

90.7 WMFE spoke with Powers about how the VA is responding to the pandemic and offering support for veterans and their families but also the wider public.

Read the full conversation here.

Prieur: Do you think that you have enough ICU beds and PPE?

Powers: I’ll just give you Orlando as an example. They doubled their capacity here. And as we were walking around, many of those ICU beds are sitting empty. Thankfully, we did that pretty much across the board. One of the things we did early on, as part of that operation center up in Washington DC was track the number of ICU beds, was track the number of swabs and testing kits and PPE and we have had adequate numbers throughout this pandemic. And we’re making sure that we can handle any potential surge in any area. And so I don’t see any concerns in either of those.

Prieur: At nursing homes where visitors aren’t allowed, how are you socializing patients?

Powers: You know, of course, we want them to see their loved ones, but that was a risky proposition. As we saw in so many nursing homes around this country, and as we see, you know, we’ve tested all of our veterans in nursing homes, we’ve tested all of our staff in our homes, and we have very low rates across the board. But we’ve had to meet that challenge because we know that, you know, this is a difficult time we know our veterans want to see their loved ones and we know how stressful this is for them, but we want to do it in a safe manner. So we’ve done a lot on the telehealth side, telehealth visits or tele-visits with their loved ones. Some of our hospitals have been creative with parades and events where they can do some social distancing from afar.

Prieur: And at all facilities what are some of the challenges offering mental health and addiction treatment?

Powers: So we’ve reached out to all of our at-risk veterans through this process and in increased numbers. Our calls, our outreach calls went from about 40,000 a month to 900,000. And so those veterans are getting a lot more outreach, information and mental telehealth capability and sources throughout this pandemic. And we’ve had to be very creative. But I think that again, it’s another one of those game changers. It’s a way for our veterans to be safe in their home and have those visits and especially important on the PTSD side, so they don’t have to come into our hospitals for those mental health visits unless they really want to.

Prieur: What do you see as the role of the VA moving forward and responding to the pandemic?

Powers: Two different things. One is sending our personnel into nursing homes and safe veteran homes to train and support, provide PPE And then two, taking some of the vulnerable patients into our hospitals, where their hospital system might be overrun. We saw this in New York, each state is a little bit different in what their needs are. And our local hospitals are working with their counterparts to really understand what their needs are and how we can help.”

If you’d like to listen to the conversation, click on the clip above.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur


Danielle Prieur is a general reporter for 90.7 News. She studied journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and interned at 101.9 WDET. She is originally from the metro Detroit area.