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VA suspends volunteer programs

March 28, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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Though it typically has more than 200 volunteers, the Butler VA Health Care System will suspend all volunteer activities next week due to the coronavirus.

According to spokeswoman Paula McCarl, the volunteers typically support a number of needs such as driving veterans to and from appointments, and the suspension will come as a safety precaution.

“For the safety of these volunteers, veterans and staff, we are suspending all volunteer assignments starting next week,” McCarl wrote in an email to the Eagle.

The system operates the Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center in Center Township and the Sergeant Joseph George Kusick VA Community Living Center in Butler Township.

The temporary suspension is the latest in the Butler VA's response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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Earlier the health system announced it would ask three questions to all who wanted to enter the campus, including whether they have symptoms, whether they have traveled to an area with widespread COVID-19 cases and whether they've been in close contact with someone who has the respiratory illness. This was still in effect as of Friday.

The health care system further encourages veterans to participate in telemedicine visits with providers in lieu of face-to-face appointments during the pandemic. For veterans who still wish to see their practitioner in person, requests for transportation will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, the Butler VA continues to communicate with veterans through various means such as social media, telephone and its website, and the system uses Facebook Live to educate veterans on topics like exercise.

McCarl said the Butler VA is prepared to handle an “influx” of COVID-19 cases, and patients who are at risk for infection will be immediately isolated to prevent potential spread.

“The facility is equipped with essential items and supplies to handle an influx of coronavirus cases and is following CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines for testing and reporting,” she said.

In addition, the VA is screening and taking samples from patients who may have COVID-19 and sending those samples for testing at the VHA Public Health Reference Laboratory and Labcorp. There were no immediately available numbers on how many samples the Butler VA has taken and sent for testing.

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Alex J. Weidenhof

Alex J. Weidenhof