VA Evacuates Hundreds of Patients, Closes Hospitals as It Braces for Hurricane

Hampton VA Medical Center (Image: va.gov)
Hampton VA Medical Center (Image: va.gov)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is evacuating hundreds of sick and disabled veterans from medical centers in the path of Hurricane Florence and readying mobile units to reach stranded veterans.

The department on Wednesday was also closing clinics in mandatory evacuation zones along the southeast coast and working on ways to get disability checks to veterans, should mail service be disrupted in what is expected to be widespread flooding.

Five VA hospitals and 18 community-based outpatient clinics have already closed or will be closed in the southeast coastal regions of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the VA said in updates on its storm response.

About 1.5 million veterans, including more than 741,000 enrolled in VA health care, and more than 28,600 VA employees live in the affected areas, it said.

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VA facilities remaining open during the hurricane, particularly those taking in evacuated patients, have "topped off their energy and oxygen supplies, and have enough food until September 29," the department said.

The VA also listed a hurricane hotline number: 1-800-507-4571.

About 217 disabled patients are being transported from the Hampton, Virginia, VA Medical Center and moved to other facilities in Martinsburg, West Virginia; Salem, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; and Salisbury, North Carolina, the VA said.

In a statement, the Hampton VA Medical Center said all of its in-patients were being evacuated and its Emergency Department would shut down Wednesday night and not re-open until Sunday. In addition, officials said they were making contact with homeless veterans to ensure they’d be safe during the storm. The VA provided a list of approved emergency storm shelters in the area.

However, the largest homeless shelter in the area, the Union Mission, is already full and not accepting any more admissions, the Hampton VA said.

The precautions taken by the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina, are typical of others in the path of Florence.

The Charleston hospital's four outpatient clinics were closed from Tuesday through at least Saturday and all outpatient procedures were canceled. The in-patient units and Emergency Department at the Johnson Center are remaining open.

Once the main body of the storm passes, the VA is readying one mobile pharmacy unit, a mobile vet center, and a mobile emergency nutrition unit for dispatch to the Richmond, Virginia, VA Medical Center and the Salisbury, North Carolina, VA Medical Center.

The mobile units will "offer medical care, pharmacy assistance, counseling services and benefits referral to veterans and the community affected by the storm," the VA said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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