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VA New England Healthcare System


VA New England continues its 'Fourth Mission' support

May 28, 2020

BEDFORD, Mass. – VA New England Healthcare System staff continue to do their part in helping Veteran and civilian patients overcome COVID-19 by volunteering on the frontlines of care at community facilities in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Their efforts are part of VA’s national initiative to exercise its Fourth Mission of helping local communities and health care facilities when called upon in times of national emergency. States may request assistance from the federal government through their state Department of Health and Human Services Regional Emergency Coordinator as part of FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. Counties, cities, and other municipalities should route all requests for federal support through their respective states.

“We are in this fight for as long as our nation needs our help,” said Ryan Lilly, VA New England network director. “It is our obligation to help communities with the greatest need. Our highly trained clinical teams are saving lives, and it’s a testament to our volunteers that they are doing what they can with great empathy and humility to serve others – no matter if it’s here in New England or anywhere.”

Eleven certified nursing assistants and one licensed practical nurse were sent earlier this month to the state-run Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol, R.I.  The volunteers are from VA medical centers in Providence, West Haven, Conn., and from the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System. The support will continue through the month of June.

Another 13 staff members, including six registered nurses, five certified nursing assistants and two nurse practitioners, left this past week to care for civilians at five nursing homes in New Jersey that have been particularly hard hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. The FEMA Mission is expected to last 30 days, and VA New England is postured to send additional staff if needed after the 30-day mission concludes.

The volunteers are from VA medical centers in Maine and from VA hospitals in West Haven, Conn., and Manchester, N.H.

Where VA has the capacity and the resources, it will provide beds at VA medical centers and staff for community hospitals and nursing homes. VA’s decisions in supporting community health care are made after determining the actions would not negatively impact Veteran care.

“This is an opportunity for serving Veterans with top quality care – to help those who have served us,” said Ashley N. James, a certified nursing assistant at the West Haven VA Medical Center in Connecticut., who is on a two-week assignment to the Rhode Island State Veterans Home. 

Those who have recently returned from operations in New York City also mentioned the strong level of teamwork among all VA staff in caring for Veterans and non-Veteran patients alike.

“I saw a sign, ‘New York Tough,’” said Sandra Haithcock, an Air Force Veteran and a VA registered nurse from Hollis, N.H., noting that others across the country supported Boston after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  This deployment, she said, was a way to pay it forward. 

“The VA nurses who I’ve been working with for the last two weeks are definitely New York tough," said Haithcock, who is assigned to the Fitchburg, Mass., community-based outpatient clinic for the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.  “My heart goes out to all health care workers during this current situation and the families that are grieving for the people and Veterans that we have lost.”

Since early March, more than 240 VA New England staff members have deployed to assist in COVID-19 operations. Of the 240 members, more than 50 were sent to VA medical centers in New York City to augment VA staff in fighting COVID-19 with Veteran and civilian patients. Another 31 staff assisted with care for civilian patients with COVID-19 at private nursing homes and group homes in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. More than 150 staff were also sent from various VA medical centers in New England to assist their sister facilities at VA sites of care in Bedford, Mass., and Boston. 

In addition to the deployments, VA medical centers in Bedford and Boston have taken in and cared for 46 Veterans from the Massachusetts state Veterans’ home in Chelsea.  VA Providence Healthcare System has also cared for seven patients from a nursing home in Rhode Island.  VA New England also delivered personal protective equipment to the Rhode Island State Veterans Home. In Connecticut, VA staff from the West Haven VA Medical Center supported a FEMA mission to help the homeless in the greater New Haven area.

“Each of our medical centers in New England has either deployed personnel to areas outside New England or sent staff within our own network to another VA facility in New England to support the COVID-19 surges we’ve seen,” said Lilly.  “The only way for our communities to get through this is for all of us to work together.  This has been a total team effort.”

For the latest information about protecting yourself visit CDC Coronavirus. To learn more about VA efforts to treat Veterans with COVID-19, visit VA COVID-19 Care.