Dr. Alan Bridges advises on Veterans Health Administration post-COVID-19 planning

File photo of Dr. Alan Bridges at a Department of Medicine event

Alan Bridges, MD, professor (CHS), Rheumatology, senior vice chair, Department of Medicine, and chief of staff at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, is an expert advisor on post–COVID-19 operations at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—at both the national and regional levels.

In late April, Dr. Bridges was invited to participate in a three-day planning session to develop a plan for how the VHA can safely resume direct care services that had been temporarily paused or modified due to COVID-19.

Joining him in this session were 11 other experts from VHA hospitals nationwide, plus program officers from the VA Central Office.

“We realized through COVID that we would be providing health care differently than we did in the past,” he reflects. “It’s not just a reopening. It’s literally a moving forward into a new era of how we will be delivering health care.”

As an example, Dr. Bridges expects that the VHA will build on its existing leadership in providing telehealth and video visits for patients, and grow that even further.

The final plan, which was released on May 7, 2020, allows for local conditions to determine how quickly each facility resumes operations. The plan is organized into three phases, each of which aims to ensure sure that Veterans’ safety comes first.

  • Phase 1 focuses on maintaining current risk-mitigation activities and assessing how to permit elective procedures and resume certain face-to-face visits that have been postponed.
  • Phase 2 focuses on resuming postponed services as much as possible, based on local conditions and safety protocols.
  • Phase 3 focuses on allowing visitors to hospitals, community living centers, senior living facilities, and spinal cord injury and disorder units after a full assessment of the risks and only amid continuing improvement in their part of the country. Most VA employees will also return to work in this phase.

According to Dr. Bridges, his contributions focused on identifying gating criteria for resuming operations, developing risk- and benefit-based guidance for prioritizing non-urgent clinical procedures and recommending infrastructure preparedness plans for local hospitals.

In early April, Dr. Bridges was also appointed as medical incident commander for the VA Great Lakes Health Care System, a group of eight VA medical centers and nearly 40 VA clinics in Illinois, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and northwestern Indiana.

As part of that role, he was most recently charged with assessing regional readiness to resume post–COVID-19 operations under the national plan.

On May 18, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital was selected as a lead facility to implement a phased approach to reintroduce health care services.

The Tomah VA Medical Center will also serve as a similar lead facility.

In addition to this recent work on post–COVID-19 planning, Dr. Bridges serves on two prominent VHA national committees: the Chief of Staff Advisory Committee, which provides guidance on important topics to local hospitals and the VA Central Office; and the Healthcare Delivery Committee, which makes decisions about clinical care at the VHA.

Banner: File photo of Dr. Alan Bridges at a 2017 Department of Medicine event. Credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine.