Guidance from OAA – Trainees Impacted by Weather Events and Disasters

Sep 11, 2019 | Optometry HQ Announcements

This message is sent on behalf of Karen Sanders, MD, OAA Deputy Chief Academic Affiliations Officer

The Office of Academic Affiliations is reaching out to Designated Education Officers (DEO) and national program offices to provide guidance related to health professions trainees (HPT) who may be impacted by significant weather events/disasters. Similar guidance was released  in 2017 and 2018 to the education community.  We understand that some areas of the Southeast and middle Atlantic Region are likely to be impacted by Hurricane Dorian this week, and there is high potential for the closure of outpatient clinics.

Helping Trainees Cope:

HPTs  are often new to our geographic regions, and they may be disconnected from their normal social support network.  Please cue your VA site directors to counsel HPTs on storm safety.  As with employees, consider referrals to the Employee Assistance Program, if HPTs are experiencing significant stress from the aftereffects of the storm.  Cellular phones are the first communication systems to be lost in a storm, but they are also the first system to be restored.  Be sure that trainees have a cellular number of VA site directors to report their status following the storm.

For physician residents, the academic affiliates are likely to look after the welfare of the residents/fellows and have policies in place for leave and duty hours.

Mandatory evacuations/clinic closure:

For stipend-funded HPTs (e.g., psychology interns, pharmacy residents, podiatry residents, etc.) who have full or part-time paid appointments with VA, consider the following if you are in an area with a mandatory evacuation or the outpatient clinics are closed at your facility:

  • Consider Authorized Absence for the HPTs. It may be coded as Weather/Safety Leave under authorized absence.
  • VA site/training directors and/or supervisors may provide HPTs with readings and other supplemental assignments to complete while on authorized absence. This may enable HPTs to continue to accumulate training hours.
  • Training stipends should not be “docked” for this unusual weather event.
  • Annual leave does not need to be taken.After the storm – challenges to safe housing/transportation:
  • If the facility reopens but a HPT is unable to report for duty at the facility subsequent to storm impacts, we suggest the following:
  • The HPT should contact their VA site director.
  • The HPT should first use all available leave.
  • When leave is exhausted, the HPT may request advanced leave, which will be earned during the remainder of their training appointment.
  • When all available leave is exhausted, and/or no advanced leave is available, please contact us at OAA for further guidance.  In special situations, we will recommend that the HPT go on Leave Without Pay status.  On a limited basis and with pre-approval, we are prepared to offer training appointment extensions, should a HPT need to complete required training hours.

Can HPTs Participate in Disaster Teams?

We have had questions about HPTs being involved in emergency and relief efforts.  We advise against it – if these are HPTs in accredited programs, they have specific and clear objectives and assignments through their training programs.  And they MUST be supervised by faculty that are approved IN THEIR OWN training programs.  To have HPTs go far afield to a new site is worrisome on two accounts:

  • Will they get a supervisor with specific skills and competencies that is also approved through their program?
  • Will their experience actually count towards their assignments in their own training programs?

We have plenty of volunteers throughout VA so HPTs become too complicated to manage effectively given their need for approved supervision and their required assignments to complete the program.

Physician HPTs also have specific duty hour regulations, and it would be hard to enforce their 80 hour standards in an emergency situation.  Even Fellows, who may be in a special hybrid category as LIPs/Trainees Fellows, there are often 80-hour  time limits for service, which also includes their moonlighting activities.

Please feel free to contact OAA if we may respond to specific questions and/or provide any guidance.

We wish you, your HPTs, and the Veterans and family members that you serve to be safe during and following this weather event.

Stacy Pommer, LMSW
Acting Team Lead
Associate Director
Associated Health Education
Office of Academic Affiliations (10X1)
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Phone:  202-461-9877