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Mortality Among US Veterans Admitted to Community vs Veterans Health Administration Hospitals for COVID-19.

IMPORTANCE: Veterans Health Administration (VHA) enrollees receive care for COVID-19 in both VHA and non-VHA (ie, community) hospitals, but little is known about the frequency or outcomes of care for veterans with COVID-19 in VHA vs community hospitals.

OBJECTIVE: To compare outcomes among veterans admitted for COVID-19 in VHA vs community hospitals.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This retrospective cohort study used VHA and Medicare data from March 1, 2020, to December 31, 2021, on hospitalizations for COVID-19 in 121 VHA and 4369 community hospitals in the US among a national cohort of veterans (aged ≥65 years) enrolled in both the VHA and Medicare with VHA care in the year prior to hospitalization for COVID-19 based on the primary diagnosis code.

EXPOSURE: Admission to VHA vs community hospitals.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The main outcomes were 30-day mortality and 30-day readmission. Inverse probability of treatment weighting was used to balance observable patient characteristics (eg, demographic characteristics, comorbidity, mechanical ventilation on admission, area-level social vulnerability, distance to VHA vs community hospitals, and date of admission) between VHA and community hospitals.

RESULTS: The cohort included 64 856 veterans (mean [SD] age, 77.6 [8.0] years; 63 562 men [98.0%]) dually enrolled in the VHA and Medicare who were hospitalized for COVID-19. Most (47 821 [73.7%]) were admitted to community hospitals (36 362 [56.1%] admitted to community hospitals via Medicare, 11 459 [17.7%] admitted to community hospitals reimbursed via VHA's Care in the Community program, and 17 035 [26.3%] admitted to VHA hospitals). Admission to community hospitals was associated with higher unadjusted and risk-adjusted 30-day mortality compared with admission to VHA hospitals (crude mortality, 12 951 of 47 821 [27.1%] vs 3021 of 17 035 [17.7%]; P < .001; risk-adjusted odds ratio, 1.37 [95% CI, 1.21-1.55]; P < .001). Readmission within 30 days was less common after admission to community compared with VHA hospitals (4898 of 38 576 [12.7%] vs 2006 of 14 357 [14.0%]; risk-adjusted hazard ratio, 0.89 [95% CI, 0.86-0.92]; P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This study found that most hospitalizations for COVID-19 among VHA enrollees aged 65 years or older were in community hospitals and that veterans experienced higher mortality in community hospitals than in VHA hospitals. The VHA must understand the sources of the mortality difference to plan care for VHA enrollees during future COVID-19 surges and the next pandemic.

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