50,000 additional VA patients died in 2020 compared to normal study results

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More than 50,000 Veterans Affairs patients died in 2020 than expected in previous years – a finding that provides additional insight into the true impact of the pandemic on the veteran community, according to a new study.

The study is scheduled for next year in The. to be published Lancet Regional Health – America but published online on October 30, found that from March to December, 17% more VA patients died of VA than expected from all causes, including COVID-19, compared to 2016-2018.

By the end of 2020, VA had just over 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. That means that 44,000 of the deaths above the roughly 375,000 VA averages per year were either COVID-related but not appropriately categorized, or they were preventable, caused by something that would otherwise be in a year when hospitals weren’t overwhelmed or humans who would have been treated would have stayed at home.

VA researcher Kevin Griffith, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University, said statistics that focus only on confirmed COVID-19 deaths “really underestimate the human suffering that the pandemic is causing”.

“What you want to count is the number of people who would be alive today, not just those who died from COVID,” Griffith said in an interview with Military.com.

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The researcher wanted to determine the number of additional deaths in 2020 overall and for individual VA medical facilities, as he felt the data could be useful for the department as it investigates its pandemic response and plans for the next national emergency.

They found that VA had fewer deaths compared to the general US population – a data point they found surprising as VA serves an elderly patient population with complex medical problems.

Corresponding a study published on JAMA Network in April, During the same period, the US recorded more than 522,300 additional deaths, 23% more than in previous years, including more than 350,000 from COVID-19.

“VA did better than expected and we believe a lot of this has to do with its very strong response, a very robust response to the early COVID pandemic,” said Griffith.

While the team didn’t investigate why the VA was doing better during the pandemic, the researchers suspected that VA patients were able to maintain access to medical care while many in the general population lost their health insurance due to unemployment. VA has also expanded its telemedicine capabilities, banned nursing homes and facilities with high-risk patients, and canceled voting procedures early.

“The VA dusted off all of its pandemic plans, rewritten them, stocked ventilators and trained staff,” Griffith said. “Give credit where it is due, [then-Secretary Robert Wilkie] had a population at high risk for severe COVID and managed to weather the early days of the pandemic better than expected. “

The study found that areas hardest hit by the pandemic tended to have higher deaths – places like the VA medical facilities in the VA New York Harbor Health Care System in New York City and the Beckley VA Medical Center in West Virginia, while others did not see a surge, including the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System in Las Vegas and the Chillicothe VA Medical Center in Ohio.

Griffith said VA could contact these VA medical centers to identify best practices and deficiencies during a future crisis.

“This amount of data allows us to see how important certain policies were and how the response from various health systems has mitigated the pandemic,” Griffith said.

As of March 2020, there have been 376,424 COVID-19 cases in VA patients and 15,536 have died.

“There’s this perception that VA is terrible for the quality of care and everyone hates it, which makes sense because every time VA does something bad, it makes the news. But the VA wasn’t messing around on this case, ”Griffith said.

– Patricia Kime can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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