As the nation simultaneously grapples with the coronavirus and flu, VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System is going mobile as a proactive measure to protect vulnerable veterans.
Between Nov. 9-13, a team of VA social workers, health technicians, nurses and emergency management personnel are visited various locations throughout downtown Las Vegas testing eligible homeless and formerly homeless veterans for COVID-19 and providing free flu shots.
“We’ve been planning this for the last three months and this is the first time we’ve ever done flu shots and COVID testing at our Grant and Per Diem and Health Care for Homeless Veterans Contract Residential Service sites,” said Peter McCoy, VASNHS Community Resource and Referral Center coordinator. “Our goal is to test and/or vaccinate approximately 370 veterans this week.”
According to the VA, homeless veterans are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19, influenza and other upper respiratory illnesses due to their living conditions, advanced average age and high rate of chronic health problems. Furthermore, recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research indicates high rates of asymptomatic carriers in congregate settings and shows that when a single homeless individual has tested positive in a congregate living environment the rate of actual infection among residents is much higher.
As such, the sites selected for the VA outreach are managed by the United States Veterans Initiative, the Salvation Army and Help USA, who provide either beds, transitional housing or other resources to Veterans in Southern Nevada.
U.S. VETS was the first site for mobile testing and vaccinations and was previously a hotel before becoming a shelter for homeless veterans in 2001.
“This location is the heart of Las Vegas,” said Josephine Asiata, a social worker with VA and one of the coordinators of the outreach. “It has close proximity to the Strip and there’s a heavy presence of homeless veterans. This event helps with prevention and intervention of spreading the virus. It also allows an opportunity for veterans to get tested without having to leave the site of their temporary housing.”
For James Kelley, a homeless veteran tested at U.S. VETS, getting a COVID-19 test was a precaution. “I’ve been tested before. If you know you have [the coronavirus], you can give it to somebody else.”