Chief VA physician: 'I had 5 million masks incoming that disappeared'

Veterans Affairs hospitals have not been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic to the expected extent. Indeed, the national health system has been able to lend a hand to assist veterans being treated for COVID-19 in troubled state facilities. But Richard Stone, the physician in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, confirmed to The Washington Post for the first time that the system is short on masks and other supplies.

“I had five million masks incoming that disappeared,” Stone said, admitting he’s been forced to move to “austerity levels” at some hospitals.

The shortage, which had previously been denied by VA officials, is related to the fact that many supplies were diverted to the national stockpile at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Stone eventually received some shipments that have provided a buffer for medical personnel, but VA hospitals still have discretion to ration equipment, re-use or decontaminate masks, or allow staff to bring in their own.

Barbara Galle, an intensive care nurse at the Minneapolis VA Hospital and president of the local AFGE union chapter, said staff caring for COVID-19 patients could only get N95 surgical masks if they are involved in extra risky procedures, and that other hospital workers have been told to wear their face masks for a week and staple the straps together if they break. Read more at The Washington Post.

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