Topeka VA says Shawnee County health officials ‘undermine work’ during coronavirus pandemic


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center has responded to the Shawnee County Health Department’s claim that it isn’t cooperating with attempts to gather data on coronavirus cases.

A spokesman for VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System issued a statement that the veterans’ hospital provided medical data for the health department the day after they requested it.

“Immediately following the April 27 request, we began working with our regional and national headquarters, and the VA Office of General Council to ensure we would not be in violation of any federal directive when releasing the critical items and personal information asked for by the county health department,” said Joseph Burks, Chief of Communication for VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System.

He went on to say that the VA staff have now been questioned on the facility’s focus on safety.

“This report by the Shawnee County Health Department was premature and has potential to spread distrust and panic throughout a community and undermines the tireless work being done by a dedicated and compassionate workforce which has performed exceptionally, during a national crisis, while enhancing patient safety and becoming a high reliable organization,” Burks said.

Burks’ response came after Shawnee County Health Department Director Linda Ochs said the VA was not cooperating with their requests for coronavirus data.

“We appreciate the work of Stormont Vail Health, the University of Kansas Health System – St. Francis Campus and other healthcare facilities in assisting us with the identification of COVID-19 cases and their contacts in our community,” Ochs said. “At the same time we are diligently working to reopen the community, it’s unfortunate that we have not had the same level of cooperation from the VA administration to protect the health of our community and their employees.”

The Topeka VA Medical Center reported nine positive coronavirus cases and three recoveries at their main center in a Wednesday morning press release. This brings the total number of active cases at the medical center to six with two staff members and four veterans infected with the virus. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports 20 local cases factoring in the VA’s other clinics in the area.

The VA said they will continue to work with local, state and national agencies to provide the necessary information.

“As of 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28 we informed the county health department that we had legal authority and approval to provide the protected information,” Burks said.

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