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Environmental Health Clinicians and Coordinators fill new roles during coronavirus pandemic

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Middlestead in her office

Many Environmental Health Clinicians and Coordinators took on new roles to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. They provided safe and organized COVID-19 testing, took new clinical positions to treat Veterans, managed the reassignments of medical center staff, and monitored medical staff health; many while continuing to manage previous duties. Below are some of the new roles that dedicated VA Environmental Health Clinicians and Coordinators across the country took in the early months of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Drive-Through Testing

Anisa Moore, MD, who is Section Chief of the Environmental Health Department at VA Eastern Colorado Health Care Services and Lead Environmental Health Clinician for Veterans Integrated Service Network 19, worked as Medical Director of the COVID-19 Clinical Testing Center at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (VAMC) COVID-19 drive-through test site. Drive-through testing allows hospitals to minimize contamination and streamlines the testing process; if patients are tested in a clinic or hospital room, the room can’t be used for at least two hours while it is decontaminated. Dr. Moore has returned to her usual position.

Staff Reassignments to Care for Veterans

“The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson, Arizona VA has sent one medical doctor, one nurse practitioner, and two medical support assistants to the Labor Pool/COVID-19 task force,” said Boaz Rabin, MD, FACP, Clinical Director, Compensation and Pension Department, Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

The VHA Compensation and Pension/ Environmental Health Department at the Fargo VA Medical Center reassigned three providers to other services as a part of their site’s COVID-19 response. Jackie Steckler, PA-C, was assigned to Rheumatology, Andrea Middlestead DNP, NP-C, was assigned to Cardiology, and Keith Fischer, MD, was assigned as a hospitalist. “All three providers returned to their regular roles in late June,” said Carol Ness, MD, C&P/Environmental Health, Fargo VAMC.

Helping Health Care Workers

health workers in a lab setting

Katia Gugucheva, MD, Environmental Health Clinician with the Orlando VA Medical Center, has been detailed to occupational health screening and following VA employees who have been exposed to Veterans (patients) who tested positive for COVID-19. “We follow the CDC recommendations for these exposed employees and do our best to monitor and take care of them the best we can,” said Gugucheva. “They express to me genuine gratefulness for what the VA, as an employer, is doing for them, and they feel safe that the VA will continue to care for them if they become very ill,” she said.

Terri Dymeck, NP, Northern Arizona VA Health Care System, normally conducts Environmental Registry Exams and works in Compensation & Pension as a nurse practitioner. “I have been detailed from my area doing employee health COVID tracking, where we make clinical decisions regarding the care and follow up of employees who are suspected as being COVID-positive,” she said.

Nancy Raml DNP, FNP-BC, Medical Examiner, Compensation & Pension, and Environmental Health Registry Clinician, Zablocki VA Medical Center, Milwaukee, WI, has been trained to perform pre-employee health physicals to assist with the rapid intake of the new health care workers. “I have assisted with processing N95 mask requests, reviewing employee hazardous drug questionnaires, and working in the Staffing Resource Team (which reallocates staff to meet the daily COVID-related needs of the medical center) pool, screening employees’ temperatures, assisting in the emergency department transporting COVID-19 test samples to the lab, and transporting emergency room patients to radiology for imaging and to the inpatient units if admitted,” she said. During this assignment, she still responds to Veterans’ registry questions via email or telephone. In late June, she began conducting in-person environmental health registry exams again with the facility’s leadership and direction.

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