As the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities are in the fight to do what they can to protect those who need it most.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is the nation's largest integrated health care system.
With roughly half of our veterans over the age of 65 and many with underlying health conditions, they could be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, which is why top officials in the Birmingham VA Health Care System are taking all the necessary precautions when it comes to protecting the general public and those at a higher risk.
Like other hospitals across the state and country, The Birmingham VA Hospital System and the nine community outpatient clinics, including the one in Huntsville, have changed their daily operations.
Some of those changes include:
-They've suspended all elective surgeries and procedures.
-All patients and staff will be screened at upon entering the facility. It's a uniform screening process which includes temperature checks and a quick Q&A.
-Shuttles to and from the facility are limiting passengers to 50%.
-The system has stopped volunteers from coming in, especially since most of the volunteers are senior citizens and at a higher risk themselves.
"I feel very honored that we're entrusted with the responsibility to take care of my fellow veterans that are out there, we are really committed to ensuring our patients get the best care at the Birmingham VA Medical System and that we also take care of our staff here to make sure they don't get sick too," said Birmingham VA Healthcare System Director Stacy Vasquez.
We spoke with Vasquez and her chief of staff via FaceTime.
Technology proving to be a valuable tool during this time of uncertainity.
"We have a thing called video connect and you can use an app on your phone and we're encouraging people to do it by video connect or by telephone for their appointments, so they're not exposed more in any of our locations with other folks in waiting areas," said Vasquez.
They ensured us patients are still being seen at their scheduled appointments, but it's vital that you don't show up to their facilities if you are experiencing any form of flu-like symptoms.
"We're still conducting outpatient appointments, what we have done with some of our mental health appointments we've converted those groups to phone groups instead, so you do some social distancing for group therapy and some of those sorts of things," she continued, "but I am encouraging people if they have flu-like symptoms to not come in and to give us a call ahead of time and let us see if we can take care of them by phone instead."
"The good news is it's not a death sentence, the vast majority of people are just going to be as sick as they would if they had a bad cold or some type of mild or moderate flu that they treat at home," said Dr. Oladipo Kukoyi, chief of staff.
"Only 20 percent of people get sick enough to require to come to the hospital so I think that's important to remember."
He continued, "Most everybody is going to be okay so that's a good take home message."
If you do have concerns, the VA system is also offering telecommunication options, so you can call the facility directly or use their video app to get guidance for any concerns you may have regarding your health.