VA projects high levels of employee absenteeism as coronavirus response ramps up
Federal News Network
By Nicole Ogrysko
March 30, 2020
At least 185 VA employees had tested positive for coronavirus as of late last week, Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said Friday from the House floor.
As many as 40% of employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs may be absent from work — due to their own illness or fear of getting sick — during a severe coronavirus outbreak, the agency estimated.
The figure was one of several “planning assumptions” in the department’s coronavirus response plan, which VA made public late last week.
“Public health measures of temporarily closing schools, declaring other closures and quarantining household contacts of infected individuals are likely to increase rates of absenteeism due to employees with school-aged children,” the Veterans Health Administration wrote.
VA’s Office of Inspector General, whose staff spent a week making unannounced visits to 58 medical centers, 125 community-based outpatient clinics and 54 community living centers around the country, began noting higher-than-normal levels of absenteeism among the agency’s staff in mid-March.
The department announced Sunday it would officially begin that responsibility, with the opening of 50 beds to non-veteran and non-coronavirus patients in New York City.
Individual states must ask for VA backup assistance through FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center and their own Department of Health and Human Services regional emergency coordinators. Once the request has been issued, VA will decide whether it has the capacity to respond in a local region.
VA already deployed some of its mobile vet centers units in mid-March, the department said Monday. VA employees volunteer to deploy with these mobile units, which serve as an extension to the department’s brick-and-mortar medical facilities and community clinics across the country — especially during major hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings and other disasters.
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