In a letter sent Monday evening to the Department of Homeland Security secretary 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 hospitalizations of Afghan evacuees so far.
With as many as 5,000 evacuees temporarily housed at the Marine Corps Base Quantico and as many as 10,000 staying at the U.S. Army’s Fort Lee base near Petersburg, 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 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 non-Afghan 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 many as six hours, causing additional emotional trauma to evacuees who endured multiple hardships while fleeing from 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 Center, with surrounding local governments providing much of the resources.