HELENA — The Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) has begun to reimplement many in-person services that had previously been suspended due to COVID-19.
Laboratory, pathology, pharmacy and radiology services have all resumed, and elective procedures and dental will continue in the coming weeks.
“We are excited to expand our in-person options for Veterans. We are grateful for the way Veterans have remained safe, connected, and engaged with their healthcare during the challenges of the past months,” said MTVAHCS Director Dr. Judy Hayman. “As a high reliability organization, Veteran and staff safety is our highest priority, and this commitment to safety will guide our decision making as we go forward. Our health care services and procedures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be informed by federal, state, and local guidance.”
The Montana VA will follow the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) risk-based framework to prioritize non-urgent procedures in addition to the urgent procedures currently being performed. Procedures will be evaluated on a case by case basis, taking into consideration patient health, staff safety, and resource availability.
Best practices learned by MTVAHCS during this time will be shared with and help influence other VA facilities as they reintroduce services across the country.
VA Medical Center-Fort Harrison will continue to screen for COVID-19 for everyone entering the campus, and require patients to wear a face mask when entering their facilities.
As of May 18, the Montana VA has conducted more than 84,000 screenings and conducted 261 COVID-19 tests. Fort Harrison is able to conduct their own coronavirus tests and not rely on the State Lab.
VA patients may be accompanied by one person to help with their visit ,or needs to have an understanding of their treatment. Visitors under the age of 18 are currently not permitted in MTVAHCS facilities.
Chief of Staff Dr. JP Maganito wants veterans and their families to know every precaution is being taken to protect patients and staff health during this pandemic.
“We’ve been ahead of the game, while others adapted to the procedures we came up with,” explained Maganito. “We guarantee that veteran safety is first. What a lot of veterans are thinking about right now is how much do they need to come in, and can they have these visits via virtual care of some sort.
For the past two month, VA providers have utilized VA Video Connect, telemedicine and telephone calls to continue care for veterans.
The Montana VA had already built substantial telehealth services for patients even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Here in Montana we’ve been very fortunate, we have a very robust program so we were able to quickly pivot to be able to utilize things such as VA video connect, where a veteran is able to connect with their provider via a smartphone or a tablet,” explained Dr. Hayman.
The Montana VA has had a 32 percent increase in telephone appointments and a 364 percent in their VA Video Connect usage since the pandemic began.
Dr. Maganito says his staff have taken a proactive approach to getting patients the care they need, and strongly encourages patients to reach out if they need care or are wondering when their procedure is being rescheduled for.
“We will always be available for our veterans,” said Maganito. “Now is the time to seek that care.”
Veterans who have questions about accessing MTVAHCS health care should call the nurse advice line at 1-877-468-8387 (and press option 3).