DC VA Medical Center Employee, 57, Dies of Coronavirus

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An employee of the Washington DC VA Medical Center has died of complications from coronavirus, the News-4 I-Team has learned.    

Calvin Richardson Jr., a longtime addiction rehabilitation specialist at the hospital, fell ill on Easter Sunday and passed away over the weekend. Richardson, 57, was a father and U.S. Army veteran.

His death is the first reported of an employee at the DC VA Medical Center during the virus crisis thus far.

Richardson was one of approximately 50 employees to test positive for the virus, the I-Team has learned. Several of those employees have fully recovered.  Others remain in home quarantine.

The death toll at the DC VA Medical Center, one of the largest VA hospitals in the nation, has reached 16. Of the approximately 175 patients who have tested positive, 15 have died.

The agency cannot and did not disclose Richardson’s name or details on his death. The I-Team learned of the death from colleagues, friends and relatives. 

“Unfortunately, we lost a staffer over the weekend and that’s a very sad event,” said medical center director Michael Heimall, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

The DC VA Medical Center has adjusted policies and protocols in response to the wave of virus patients. All employees are required to wear masks while on-site at the hospital. Approximately 40%  of medical center employees are working remotely, via telework, to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

The I-Team has learned at least two patients were sickened through “hospital transmission’ of the virus in the medical center’s psychiatric unit  An asymptomatic patient who entered the hospital for mental health care transmitted the virus to patients and staffers.

Union leaders for VA hospital workers criticize the agency for not providing sufficient masks for rank-and-file employees nationwide, including in D.C.  

“Rationing masks is absolutely unacceptable to any American, especially those who have to care for our veterans,” said Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

An internal memo shared with the I-Team said the DC VA Medical Center had asked staff to save and reuse some masks, storing those masks in a paper bag, to avoid depleting supplies. Heimall, the medical center director, confirmed the policy, but said the hospital is quickly growing its supply of masks for staff.  

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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