Gov. Mike Parson is ordering an external review of Missouri’s seven Veterans Homes to determine if their efforts go far enough to combat COVID-19. The move follows a briefing Thursday with the governor that he says “raised concerns” about how well the homes are uniformly and systematically operating to prevent and, if necessary, contain COVID-19 outbreaks.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson briefs Capitol reporters in Jefferson City on July 27, 2020 (photo courtesy of the governor’s Flickr page)

“We are deeply saddened by the news of the deaths in four of our Missouri Veterans Homes,” says Parson in a press release. “As a veteran myself, I care a great deal about the quality of care our veterans receive at the Veterans Homes in our state and have raised an alarm bell more than once when I felt we as a state weren’t meeting the standard of care I believe they are owed. We have been fighting COVID-19 for over seven months now, and we have learned a lot about how to fight the virus since March. The recent sudden positive case growth among staff and residents in our Veterans Homes, and most importantly, the tragic loss of lives of veterans in our care are, in my opinion, unacceptable.”

The Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) has provided information showing 155 active cases of COVID-19 currently exist among veterans and employees within the nursing homes.

• Cameron Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 2 veterans (reported Oct. 1); 2 staff members
• Cape Girardeau Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 57 veterans; 12 staff members
• Mexico Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 0 veterans; 0 staff members
• Mt. Vernon Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 27 veterans; 4 staff members
• St. James Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 24 veterans; 9 staff members
• St. Louis Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 0 veterans; 2 staff member
• Warrensburg Veterans Home – active COVID-19 cases: 12 veterans; 4 staff members

Until September, the commission says there had been a total of one death of a resident of a Veterans Home while there was an active COVID-19 case in a home. The one veteran death was at the St. Louis Home in April. For September, the following total deaths were reported at each home indicated while there were known COVID-19 cases among veterans in the home. MVC says the number of deaths that were caused by COVID-19 is not known at this time.

• Cape Girardeau Veterans Home – 21 total deaths reported
• Mt. Vernon Veterans Home – 7 total deaths reported
• St. James Veterans Home – 10 total deaths reported
• Warrensburg Veterans Home – 3 total deaths reported

In a press release from the commission, it says after months of few or no COVID-19 cases among veterans at Missouri’s Veterans Homes, five of the seven homes have reported active veteran cases this past month. Two new veteran cases were reported at one home for the first time Thursday.

Upon the first COVID-19 case being reported in Missouri on March 7, the commission immediately restricted access to visitors, vendors, and volunteers at all the homes. MVC then began training and made infectious disease protocols, including twice daily temperature checks and contact interviews with all employees.

In August, MVC began outdoor visits with family members and loved ones as conditions permitted. All outdoor visits included a screening process and wearing masks.

According to the release, over the last four months, more than 21,000 tests have been conducted among veterans and staff. In some of the homes staff and veterans are tested twice per week.

“From the first day that COVID-19 was detected in Missouri, the Veterans Homes implemented an extensive plan based on best practices to attempt to keep the virus out of our homes and protect our veterans,” MVC Executive Director Paul Kirchhoff says in the press release. “This has included limiting access, setting up quarantine and isolation areas in advance, extensive use of Personal Protective Equipment and increased cleaning and hygiene measures. We are concerned to see the heroes we care for dealing with this disease that is so virulent among the elderly and vulnerable populations.”

The governor has instructed Missouri Veterans Commission Chairman Timothy Noonan to launch a speedy, external to assess their performance and find ways, if any, to improve their management of COVID-19.

According to Parson’s release, the governor has also directed the deployment of the new Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests to Missouri Veterans Homes. An initial shipment of 2,400 tests was delivered to the MVC headquarters today to be distributed to priority Veterans Homes. The release says the nursing homes will then be supplied with sufficient antigen and PCR tests to support ongoing testing requirements.

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