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VA Medical Center employees claim masks being reused in emergency rooms

Veterans Affairs leaders deny any shortages of PPE yet some employees say they only receive one mask per week. Senator Mark Warner and others asking questions.

BALTIMORE — Concerns about a lack of personal protective equipment in Veterans Affairs medical facilities in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and across the country are prompting questions from five U.S. senators including Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Warner, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and three others wrote a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking about the amount of PPE on hand for employees.

"We have also heard from a number of our constituents who are employees at VA facilities, who think they are not being provided adequate PPE in their jobs and fear for their personal health and safety," the senators wrote. "Employees report being asked to use one N95 mask for up to a week, which manufacturers recommend be changed each shift at a minimum."

Baltimore VAMC employee Jerry Bryant planned to protest with colleagues Wednesday morning outside the facility. He works in the emergency room at the facility and fears exposure to the virus every day he goes to work.

"You’re at risk cause you don’t know who you’re coming into contact with," Bryant said. "They give us one surgical mask for a whole week. You sign for it. They give you a paper bag to put it in."

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WUSA9 has reported on employee concerns at VA facilities in the Washington, D.C. area for several weeks. 

"Secretary Wilkie, you need to be more transparent about how much PPE you've got. If you say you’ve got enough, why aren’t you willing to be a little more liberal in terms of sharing that with the workforce," Warner told WUSA9 anchor Adam Longo. 

WUSA9 sent a lengthy list of questions to officials at the Maryland VA Health System, which includes the Baltimore VAMC.

When asked about the allegations PPE is being rationed and reused contrary to FDA guidelines, spokesman Rosalia Scalia told WUSA9, "That’s not true. Baltimore VAMC is equipped with essential items and supplies to handle an influx of coronavirus cases."

"The Baltimore VA Medical Center has adequate PPE for the employees who are treating our COVID-19 positive patient population," Scalia added.

Read the list of questions and answers posed to the Maryland VA Health System by WUSA9 here.

"That’s not (the VA response) giving the federal workforce the mental comfort they need to perform their duties," Warner said. 

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