On April 5, the Veteran Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System enacted their “Fourth Mission” during the current pandemic calling for humanitarian care for civilians during an emergency situation. This is the first time the hospital has accepted non-veterans since its founding 67 years ago. Mark S. Hausman, VAAHS chief of staff, discussed how  VAAHS began preparing for the surge of COVID-19 patients that was soon to come by increasing their hospital capacity in late February.

“We were able to, within a week or so, double our hospital capacity and triple our ICU capacity,” Hausman said. 

In addition to increasing resources such as beds and equipment, Hausman said the hospital identified existing staff members with ICU experience and reassigned them to the roles needed to support the fight against COVID-19. Hausman said the VAAHS currently has 17 active COVID-19 patients.

Hausman explained how the VAAHS enacted the Fourth Mission to support the greater Detroit community’s hospitals, which were operating well beyond capacity. Although the predicted surge had not yet come to Washtenaw County, the VAAHS began to accept non-veteran transfers from the Beaumont Health System, Henry Ford Hospital and the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit. Hausman said that since VAAHS had two separate zones for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, it was able to safely admit both types of patients.

“So far, (treatment at the VA) is only something that veterans get to experience as a healthcare they’ve earned, but the people that work here take a lot of pride in what it is we have to offer,” Hausman said. “This is our chance to show everyone, not just veterans, the quality of care that we can provide and the compassion.” 

LSA Freshman Sahita Manda used to volunteer in the physical therapy department of VAAHS before the hospital stopped allowing volunteers in patient contact positions to continue. Though she misses volunteering, Manda said she was proud of the VA for stepping up to help the country during the pandemic.

 “I think (seeing the VA’s work)  is a great opportunity for all students who are interested in health care or public health to kind of see where these two fields intersect, and how they cooperate to achieve a common goal of keeping everyone safe,” Manda said.

Stacey Breedveld, VAAHS associate director for patient care services, said the nursing staff faced new challenges while caring for critically-ill patients on ventilators. She explained how usually in an end-of-life situation, patients would have the support of family members near them. However, with visitors not being allowed to see patients anymore, nurses have stepped up to support patients.

“In many cases, it was the nurse, you know, holding the patient’s hand as they passed,” Breedveld said. “They’ve just gone above and beyond their duty.”

Adrian Angelovic, a nurse in the ICU and a veteran, had to shift operations to begin working in the new medical COVID-19 unit. He said that despite the stressful circumstances, working in collaboration with his team members has helped ease his anxieties.

“Stay safe, and use common sense!” Angelovic said.


Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu


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