DANVILLE – The VA hospital in Danville, Ill., has begun accepting non-Veteran patients who need inpatient care.
The goal is to relieve some of the strain on other hospitals in the state — in particular, those in southern Illinois that have been stretched thin for weeks due to the latest COVID surge.
Dr. Staci Williams, acting medical director of the VA Illiana Health Care system, says the move falls in line with VA’s “fourth mission” — to respond during national emergencies.
The Danville VA hospital is currently providing 10 beds for non-Veterans, with the goal of increasing to 20 beds. While the hospital has been treating veterans with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, care for non-Veterans will be limited to patients who are not COVID-positive.
The state of Illinois and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will arrange transfers to the VA hospital in Danville for patients who can’t find a hospital bed elsewhere — for issues like car accidents and strokes.
“The ‘fourth mission’ is [about] being able to be part of an emergency response team,” Williams says. “In order to activate or really respond during that emergency mission, we do have that coordination piece that must be in place.”
For weeks, southern Illinois hospitals in a 20-county area — known throughout the pandemic as “Region 5” — have been operating at or near capacity, with fewer than 10% of intensive care unit beds available.
Williams says the move to open up care to non-Veterans at VA Illiana’s Danville facility “allows other facilities to off-load or transfer some of their less acute cases to our medical center — so that they can provide that higher level of care necessary for some of the more impacted COVID-positive patients.”
The cap on non-Veteran patients is set to ensure that VA Illiana can maintain its primary focus and mission, which is Veteran care, Williams says.
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would make 1,500 beds — a combination of acute care and intensive care beds — available to non-Veteran patients at VA locations across the nation.
At the time, facilities in Michigan, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Louisiana and Illinois were among those that responded, according to the announcement. The three Illinois facilities included locations in Hines, Marion and Chicago.
Williams says the decision to expand care to non-Veterans at Danville, beginning on Sept. 7, was a response to a similar but separate “fourth mission” call.
VA Illiana’s main facility is in Danville and offers outpatient care, urgent care, as well as acute medical and psychiatric inpatient care. VA Illiana also operates five community-based outpatient clinics located in Bloomington, Springfield, Peoria, Mattoon and Decatur.
Christine Herman is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated that 20 beds are available for non-Veterans at the Danville VA hospital. Currently, 10 beds are available with the goal of increasing to 20, according to an update to the story provided by a spokesperson for the VA Illiana Health Care System.