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VA Medical Center in West Virginia bracing for more coronavirus cases

Employees tell WUSA9 they can easily work from home but their requests are being denied.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — There are four confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Martinsburg, West Virginia Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center. Three cases involve employees and one is a patient being treated at the facility.

After hearing from employees at the facility, WUSA9 spoke to the Martinsburg VA's Interim Director Kenneth Allensworth and the Chief of Medical Services Michael Zapor, MD.

Employees tell WUSA9 that amid the coronavirus outbreak they could easily complete their job functions from home but were not being permitted to do so. 

"We are being very flexible and being responsive to these changing conditions,” said Interim Director Allensworth. 

An email sent by Allensworth to the VA staff over the weekend indicates the facility is "continuing to plan and prepare for an increase" in COVID-19 cases.

The email also details how the Martinsburg VA will prioritize "staff stress management ideas" and "clear guidance on leave and telework" starting this week.

Credit: WUSA9
Email from Martinsburg VA Interim Director Kenneth Allensworth to employees

Obviously the doctors and health care workers can't do their jobs from home, but for others who can, employees at the facility tell WUSA9 they are frustrated over a multi-layered telework policy that leaves many unable to work from home. 

WUSA9 was provided a copy of the telework requirements employees must meet in order to qualify. Many expressed surprise and dismay that five different supervisors are required to sign off on one's telework request.  

Credit: WUSA9
Portion of telework guidelines from Martinsburg VA

"We have 2,200 employees. And currently, 3.6 percent are teleworking," said Allensworth. 

When asked if there were plans to increase that Allensworth responded, "Again, I refer you back to my previous comments; we’re looking at numerous workplace options."

"Each case is reviewed and if it's operationally appropriate, telework is one of the many workplace flexibilities we have that we can use," said Allensworth.

Tom Barton, of Martinsburg, posted to Facebook about a veteran whose wife works at the VA facility. He said the whole family is under quarantine until results of a coronavirus test on their 9-year-old daughter come back.

"She's administrative and fully capable of executing her job offsite, but to me it seems like there is so much resistance from the VA,” said Barton.

Credit: WUSA9
Martinsburg resident shares coronavirus testing experience

Interim Director Allensworth says employees have a number of options.

"They include staggering our shifts, relocation of activities or offices to minimize exposure and in some cases telework," said Allensworth. 

The medical director of the facility, Michael Zapor, MD, says the one patient being treated at the Martinsburg VA is doing well and none of the three employees who tested positive were medical or administrative staff.

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