05.29.20

Peters Presses Department of Veterans Affairs on PPE Availability at Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit

Peters Demands Answers From VA on Status of PPE in Detroit, Expresses Alarm at Reports of Frontline Health Care Workers Rationing Equipment

DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) is pressing for answers regarding the status of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers and patients at the John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Detroit. In a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie, Peters asked a number of questions and expressed concerns about a report by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) citing low inventory of critical testing materials and PPE at the facility. This report and firsthand accounts from frontline medical professionals contradict recent claims from VA leadership of not having “encountered any PPE shortages” at their facilities.

“Staff at VAMC Detroit report shortages of critical medical supplies necessary to perform their duties in light of COVID-19,” wrote Peters, a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This [report] comes as VA health care workers nationwide have also expressed inadequate access to essential equipment and in some cases being forced to ration PPE.”

“The brave doctors and nurses working the frontlines everyday are VA’s greatest asset,” the Senator continued. “Failing to adequately protect health care providers places them, their families, and veterans at risk. “We must do everything possible to improve safety at VA facilities both for staff and veterans receiving care.”

Text of the letter is copied below:

Dear Secretary Wilkie:

I am writing regarding the safety of patients and clinical professionals at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Detroit. Staff at VAMC Detroit report shortages of critical medical supplies necessary to perform their duties in light of COVID-19. This comes as VA health care workers nationwide have also expressed inadequate access to essential equipment and in some cases being forced to ration PPE. Clearly more needs to be done to ensure all VA medical providers have a safe work environment.

I am concerned by the disparity between experiences shared by frontline workers and statements from VA leadership. VA recently stated the agency “has not encountered any PPE shortages that have negatively impacted patient care or employee safety.” However, a VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from March 26, 2020 found low inventory of testing swabs, hand sanitizer, masks, face shields, goggles, and other supplies at VAMC Detroit. Notably, the OIG also discovered VAMC Detroit lacks enough ventilators.

  • What has been done to address the deficiencies at VAMC Detroit outlined by the OIG?

I am also deeply troubled by a report that claims a nurse at VAMC Detroit was directed to return to work despite showing symptoms associated with COVID-19. She later tested positive for the virus. Forcing sick medical staff to return to work is dangerous and completely unacceptable.

  • Does VA have a plan for ensuring sick employees have reached full recovery before returning to work? If so, please provide this plan.
  • How much sick leave does the VA provide to employees who show symptoms of, or test positive for, COVID-19, and what steps is the VA taking to ensure all employees have access to adequate leave?
  • Does VA have enough testing kits and associated supplies to provide for its workforce? If not, what steps is the VA taking to ensure an adequate supply of testing kits and associated supplies?

I appreciate VA’s recent commitment that it will provide all workers appropriate PPE, rather than just those treating COVID-19 patients. Frankly, this is long overdue.

  • Does VA have enough PPE to fully implement this policy? If not, what steps is VA taking to ensure adequate supply of PPE?
  • What is the timeline for achieving 100% implementation of this guidance?
  • How can Congress help achieve the goals outlined by this policy?

The brave doctors and nurses working the frontlines everyday are VA’s greatest asset. Failing to adequately protect health care providers places them, their families, and veterans at risk. We must do everything possible to improve safety at VA facilities both for staff and veterans receiving care. Please respond to each question raised in this letter as soon as possible.

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