The Washington Post

Warner, Kaine write to DHS after Afghan evacuees put strain on hospitals

- BY ANTONIO OLIVO antonio.olivo@washpost.com

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.

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