VA Northern Indiana responds to protest and complaints of VA workers

Workers protest the VA in Marion. (Chronicle-Tribune photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - 13 Investigates reported on complaints by workers at the Veterans Administration, as workers in Marion and Fort Wayne staged a protest outside of the Marion VA Medical Center.

13 Investigates asked the administration at the facility to respond to allegations of working without proper personal protective wear, a shortage of N95 masks, and sick leave policies that could put workers and patients at risk.

Alexandria Sharpe of the Fort Wayne VA provided the following responses for the VA Northern Indiana region that represents both facilities:

Q. Is there a shortage of PPE (particularly N95 masks) for workers who work in non-COVID-19 units at VA facilities in Marion and Fort Wayne?

A. No. VANIHCS is adhering to the same CDC contingency capacity PPE postures the CDC recommends all health care facilities use.

Q. Does the VA facilities in Marion and Ft. Wayne keep the N95 masks locked up with limited access to these masks for staff who are in need of them?

A. Yes, to conserve PPE, Northern Indiana Health Care System provides individually fitted N95 masks for those treating COVID-19 patients. All other employees who are in direct patient care are provided one surgical mask per day.

Q. Are facility in-take staff and environmental clean-up crews at risk because they are not provided more than surgical masks?

A. No, all facility in-take and Environmental Management Service (EMS) employees are provided the appropriate PPE, as per CDC guidelines.

Q. Does the VA at these locations plan to meet with the union to discuss the safety issues raised?

A. VANIHCS Leadership is aware of AFGE Local 1020 concerns and they have been addressed through all employee emails, media releases, and employee town halls.

Regarding leave

Additionally, all federal employees, including VA employees, accrue paid annual and sick leave. Per VA and OPM regulations, as well as CDC guidance, VA encourages employees to use paid sick leave if they are ill, experiencing symptoms of any illness, or diagnosed with COVID-19.

Staff may also apply for advanced sick leave, annual leave or telework, if they are asymptomatic, have not tested positive and feel the need to self-quarantine. Additionally, weather and safety leave may be granted if an employee is asymptomatic, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and cannot telework.