Since March, when the coronavirus descended on our area, many veterans who have wanted to visit the Veterans Administration Clinic in Lecanto have discovered they’ve been talking to their medical providers online or by phone.
Walk-in clients are not accepted unless they’ve been referred and have urgent needs. The clinic has cut back its hours to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., said Shayna Rodriguez, a public affairs specialist with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. The Lecanto clinic is in a VA region administered in Tampa.
Clients cannot get routine COVID-19 testing at the Lecanto clinic, although they can get it at the VA hospital in Tampa. In Citrus County, testing is available at such places as the Citrus Springs Community Center and the CVS drug store in Homosassa Springs.
Much routine lab work at the Lecanto clinic has been delayed, Rodriguez said. Nonetheless, the Lecanto clinic’s medical staff does review the urgency of each patient’s case and will order labs if the tests are deemed medically necessary, she said.
Rodriguez explained that because of the virus, the VA has converted “the vast majority of our outpatient appointments, including primary care and mental health care,” to virtual appointments.
According to Rodriguez, the number of video appointments in the Tampa region, including the Lecanto clinic, was up 2,453 percent during the quarter that includes April through June, compared to the quarter that immediately preceded the virus — October through December 2019.
Phone appointments increased 114 percent, and face-to-face appointments dropped 59 percent during the same comparison periods. Rodriguez’s office was unable to provide monthly totals or raw numbers solely for the Lecanto clinic or for the Tampa region.
Rodriguez’ office also wasn’t able to provide the number of COVID-19 cases that have been seen at the Lecanto clinic. However, Rodriguez pointed to a VA website that shows the VA nationally, as of July 30, has recorded 38,197 cumulative COVID cases, including 5,366 active cases, 30,747 convalescent cases, and 2,084 known deaths.
Florida VA facilities have seen 3,883 cumulative cases, 730 active cases, 3,078 convalescent cases, and 75 known deaths.
The Tampa VA region, which includes the Lecanto clinic, has seen 665 cumulative cases, 103 active cases, 547 convalescent cases, and 15 known deaths.
The region that includes the Gainesville VA hospital and that was the region the Lecanto clinic reported to until an administrative reorganization in Fall 2019, reported 1,163 cumulative cases, 233 active cases, 905 convalescent cases and 25 known deaths.
You can view the figures at https://www.accesstocare.va.gov/Healthcare/COVID19NationalSummary.
Rodriguez said that at the Lecanto clinic, people with urgent health matters still can be seen the same day. She said the wait time for routine appointments “can be negotiated to the next available appointment, which is usually within one day of the patient’s preferred date.”
Patients seeking treatment at VA sites, including Lecanto, are asked to wear masks. They have their temperatures checked upon entry and face other health screenings.
Patients needing urgent serious surgery still are being helped at VA hospitals like the hospital in Tampa, Rodriguez said. People seeking elective surgery that requires hospitalization are having appointments postponed. And day surgery not requiring hospitalization is being performed on a case-by-case basis, Rodriguez said. Surgery is not done at the Lecanto clinic.
The Tampa site is seeing a limited number of hearing and vision patients, according to a VA website.
Rodriguez shared various VA websites, including one that describes the services available at VA clinics and at the Tampa VA hospital and that also discusses the various safety measures that are being taken because of the virus: https://www.tampa.va.gov/patients/prepare.asp.
There’s a COVID screening tool, https://www.va.gov/covid19screen/.
The VA also offers the VISN 8 Clinical Contact Center, open round the clock, which veterans can call to talk to medical staff about health issues. The phone number is: 1-877-741-3400. Information about the service is at https://www.visn8.va.gov/ccc.asp.
Rodriguez said patients and staff have been remarkably accepting and willing to work under the new methods, considering that “in a very short time, we almost completely changed the way we operate.”
She said that although there are always people who are not happy about change, she feels that, in general, patients have been positive about receiving virtual care.
At the same time, she said, “Our staff has been incredible. We are hopeful. This is what we are called to do. I’m proud of the staff and the vets for coming with us on this journey.”