The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the measures taken by the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) Homeless Program Office, medical facilities, and community service providers to mitigate COVID-19 risks in transitional housing programs for veterans experiencing homelessness.
The OIG found that while transitional housing service providers successfully implemented four of six specific Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 risk mitigation measures, the providers could have strengthened implementation of two others.
VHA and service provider staff said the Homeless Program Office allowed them the flexibility to isolate vulnerable veterans, facilitate telehealth exams, and coordinate the provision of medical care in the community. Some service providers and VA medical facilities also developed their own best practices for reducing COVID-19 risks. As the pandemic continues, VHA and its service providers will need to sustain their efforts and strengthen measures to minimize COVID-19 exposure among veterans experiencing or at risk for homelessness.
Staff at all 14 facilities assessed by the OIG review team made substantial progress on four measures: cleaning frequently with disinfectant, screening veterans for symptoms, creating isolation site plans, and maintaining adequate cleansing and sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment. The OIG found improved communications from the Homeless Program Office to medical facilities helped these efforts. However, several facilities appeared to struggle with the remaining two measures: identifying high-risk veterans and communicating suggested precautions and social distancing.
Interviewees expressed concerns about service providers’ ability to maintain enough personal protective equipment for veterans during the prolonged pandemic. Medical facility staff will need to coordinate with service providers to help them develop contingency plans. The OIG made four recommendations to the under secretary for health regarding additional measures VHA could take to strengthen the implementation of CDC guidelines at the service providers’ facilities.