Medical officials aid a residents from St. Joseph's nursing home to board a bus, after a number of residents tested positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, US, March 25, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
The COVID-19 outbreak that is ripping through nursing homes across the nation also is killing many US veterans.
To date, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has administered about 35,000 coronavirus tests nationwide. Through Monday, the VA tracked 4,097 veterans diagnosed with the coronavirus. It said 241 have died.
In Paramus, New Jersey, about 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) west of Manhattan, at least eight more residents of the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home have died since Saturday, raising the number killed by the pandemic to 24.
The number of veterans hospitalized from the Paramus facility jumped to 51 this week, up from eight on Saturday. The number who tested positive for the coronavirus jumped to 75 on Monday from 37 on Saturday.
In response to the pandemic, the VA has begun moving medical personnel to hot spots around the nation.
Additional help was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the hardest-hit areas. Officials didn’t respond to requests from China Daily about the transfer of personnel to New Jersey.
The VA said it is recruiting internally for people with intensive care unit experience as well as technicians with ventilator experience. Employees who work two weeks in a hot spot will be offered a $5,000 bonus for their service, the VA said.
“The VA has great medical personnel throughout the nation supporting our veterans battling COVID-19,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement. “Some of our facilities need additional assistance and that’s why VA is taking a variety of prudent actions to properly staff for this emergency.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there are 147 nursing homes in 27 states that have at least one resident diagnosed with the coronavirus. Nationwide, there are about 15,600 nursing homes, with 1.7 million patients.
The federal government doesn’t compile coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes, but a tally by The Associated Press puts the number at about 3,600, up from 450 deaths 10 days ago. The AP total didn’t separate out veterans.
However, the toll in privately operated nursing homes, including former military personnel, may be higher because the death count in many states doesn’t include those who were never tested for the coronavirus.
But that also suggests the total may be lower because elderly residents may die of factors not related to the coronavirus. So the numbers are unclear, and it may be impossible to determine an exact number nationwide.
Last week, the US Justice Department opened an investigation of the Mount Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts where 32 patients have died since late March, including 28 who tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened here,” Andrew Lelling, US attorney for Massachusetts, told NBC News. “It would be difficult to overstate our obligation to the health and well-being of elderly and disabled military veterans.”
The federal investigation will determine if failure to provide adequate care violated the civil rights of residents during the coronavirus outbreak.
Massachusetts began a parallel investigation March 30. The state-run facility is licensed by the VA.
The head administrator of the Mount Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was placed on leave. Forty-six residents who tested negative for the virus were moved to a nearby hospital, but about 90 remain at the nursing home, according to media reports.
Members of the National Guard now help staff caring for those at the nursing home.
The US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates nursing homes, urged nursing staff to separate infected patients from others and to have separate staff members treat coronavirus patients.
The VA will receive $60 billion in emergency funding as part of the coronavirus relief package signed into law last month by President Donald Trump.
The total will be split 50-50 between VA medical services and community care, a program that pays private-sector doctors to provide care to veterans.
“It’s imperative that the (VA) has the necessary resources to keep veterans, staff and communities across the country safe,” said Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, in a statement.