VA at Fort Harrison approved to help ease strain on Montana hospitals

Montana VA new Helena clinic
Posted at 2:59 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 17:08:31-04

HELENA — The State of Montana and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have entered an agreement to use open beds at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center to support Montana hospitals’ COVID-19 response.

The number of people currently hospitalized in Montana due to COVID is 416, an increase of 14 since Thursday.

The state submitted a formal request to FEMA Region 8 on Wednesday, September 22. The request included permission to use two acute care beds and four medical surge beds at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center for immediate and short-term medical treatment to support Montana’s COVID-19 response.

On Friday morning, FEMA approved the agreement for the use of up to six beds by any eligible facility in the state in need of additional capacity.

The beds will be used to care for patients - regardless of whether they have COVID or not - who are not otherwise eligible to receive care from the VA.

The VA will accept patients if it has the capacity and capability to provide required care.

Like other Montana hospitals, the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison has been caring for critical COVID patients with physicians and nurses from other states coming to assist during the peaks.

“With more hospital beds available, hospitals now have another tool in their toolbox to treat Montanans in need of care as their systems are strained,” Governor Greg Gianforte said in a news release on Friday, September 24, 2021. “While this is another important tool, the best solution to this crisis remains Montanans talking with their doctor or pharmacist and getting vaccinated against COVID-19. We will not mandate vaccination in Montana, but these vaccines are safe, they work, and they can save your life.”

Governor Greg Gianforte announced this week he is sending Montana National Guard troops to several hospitals to help with their COVID response:

  • 10 to St. Peter's Health in Helena
  • 10 to Billings Clinic (already has 10 Guard members)
  • 6 to St. James Healthcare in Butte
  • 10 to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings
  • 24 to Missoula County
  • 10 to Bozeman Health
  • 20 to Benefis Health System in Great Falls

The Guard members will support staffing with non-medical ICU assistance, environmental services, patient data entry, and COVID testing, according to the governor's office.

Montana is not the only state deploying National Guard troops to help hospitals - other states include Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee.