The Washington Post
Warner, Kaine write to DHS after Afghan evacuees put strain on hospitals
Virginia’s two senators are pressing the Biden administration to do more to make sure that Afghan evacuees in need of medical attention don’t overwhelm local hospitals after officials in D.C.’S suburbs complained that a lack of federal planning has wreaked havoc on facilities already stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter sent Monday evening to the secretary of homeland security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) said they are concerned about a lack of coordination between federal and local officials around the hospitalization of Afghan evacuees.
With as many as 5,000 evacuees temporarily housed at Marine Corps Base Quantico and up to 10,000 staying at the U.S. Army’s Fort Pickett near Blackstone, Va., the senators urged federal officials to take steps to keep nearby hospitals from shouldering the burden of medical treatment.
“Nationwide and in Virginia, hospitals and health centers are struggling due to ongoing challenges related to covid-19, staffing shortages, and other serious medical capacity concerns,” the senators wrote. “Hospitals and health providers in the areas surrounding these bases have indicated that they are already near capacity, given these pandemic and staffing restraints.”
Department of Homeland Security officials said Tuesday that they have already begun regularly coordinating with local and state officials on hospitalizations, including conversations with epidemiologists. Among other things, all Afghan evacuees are tested for the coronavirus upon entry, officials said.
The strain on local hospitals came to light when officials in Northern Virginia complained that a lack of federal planning forced a hospital near the Dulles Expo Center to turn away nonAfghan-evacuee patients who were not in need of critical care because it was running out of available beds.
The officials also said a federal contractor tasked with retrieving Afghan patients once they were ready to be discharged often left them languishing inside those facilities for as long as six hours, causing additional emotional trauma to evacuees who had endured multiple hardships while fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Since then, the Northern Virginia Emergency Response System — a regional group tasked with handling mass-casualty events — has overseen Afghan hospitalizations near the Dulles Expo Center, with surrounding local governments providing much of the resources.