There have been multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff at the Veteran Administration Eastern Kansas Health System in Topeka, KS. Similar to each of the more than 100 cases reported in Shawnee County residents, the Shawnee County Health Department staff has tried to collect the information necessary to identify the source of the infection and who else might have been exposed to the patient. Several attempts have been made over the past several days to make contact with multiple VA administrative officials to provide the information necessary for the case and contact investigations. A formal letter was issued to the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System Director. Unfortunately the VA has as of yet denied each of the health department’s requests.
Prompt case and contact investigations are necessary in order to help protect the health and wellbeing of the VA’s staff, patients, their families and the communities where they live. Collection of this information is allowed by state and federal laws and has been done routinely and successfully with other healthcare facilities in Shawnee County. Delays in the investigations may lead to further transmission and more infected individuals.
“We appreciate the work of Stormont Vail Health, the University of Kansas Health System – St. Francis Campus and other healthcare facilities in assisting us with the identification of COVID-19 cases and their contacts in our community,” said SCHD Director Linda Ochs, “At the same time we are diligently working to reopen the community, it’s unfortunate that we have not had the same level of cooperation from the VA administration to protect the health of our community and their employees.”
In the state of Kansas, public health reporting is required by law. See K.S.A. 65-118, K.S.A. 65-119, and K.A.R. 28-1-2. Healthcare professionals and facilities in Kansas are required to report to the local health authority, in this case Shawnee County Health Department (SCHD), information indicating that a person is suffering from or has died from a reportable infectious or contagious disease. This is one of the measures to ensure proper and prompt case and contact investigations to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, in this case COVID-19.