VA Nurses, Social Workers Ensure At-Risk Veterans - VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
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VA NY Harbor Healthcare System


VA Nurses, Social Workers Ensure At-Risk Veterans

Michael Shepherd, VANYHHS licensed clinical social worker, works with homeless and at-risk Veterans. Here, he provides a preloaded cell phone to one his team’s patients.

Michael Shepherd, VANYHHS licensed clinical social worker, works with homeless and at-risk Veterans. Here, he provides a preloaded cell phone to one his team’s patients.

By VA New York Harbor Healthcare System Public Affairs
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

NEW YORK CITY — When a 95-year-old Veteran was briefly hospitalized here, he wondered what he would do about his healthcare needs when he went home. A survivor of World War II, the Navy Veteran now faced questions that many other Veterans are confronting: how will I get healthcare when I can’t visit my doctors?

Fortunately, Jack Berman’s care team has answers. His providers at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System ensured he had a new, working phone programed with essential phone numbers and telehealth apps. They also taught him to use the technology.

“VA New York Harbor's goal is to provide the same level of support for all Veterans, regardless of their circumstances,” said Karen Fuller, who leads specialized teams of providers helping homeless, elderly, and other at-risk Veterans. “COVID-19 has created a unique set of problems for Veterans like Mr. Berman, but our job is to solve those problems.”

As one of the many problem-solvers here, Fuller and her teams go out of their way to help patients with special healthcare requirements. The HUD-VASH ACT team is making home visits (with protective gear) as necessary to help patients in great need. They visit shelters and even conduct outreach on the streets, looking for patients with critical needs who can be difficult to find.

The HUD-VASH program is a joint venture between the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans receive housing through vouchers and a variety of VA supportive services, the end result being stable housing and health support. The Assertive Community Treatment team, known as ACT, is a multidisciplinary specialty team caring for patients with mental health needs.

“For most Veterans, having access to a mobile phone isn’t something they have to give much thought to. For others, it’s a privilege or luxury,” said Ellen P. Flanagan, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and ACT team member. “Our goal with the mobile phones and other services is to show our Veterans that regardless of their circumstances, their healthcare is a priority for us.”

Sydney Brown is another Veteran with a new phone and improved access to telehealth services. Brown served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. After some time in shelters, he is now maintaining an apartment and lives independently with the help of the HUD-VASH ACT team. When COVID-19 struck, the ACT team couldn’t contact Brown. Worried about how he was doing, they took action.

Ken Brereton, registered nurse and ACT team member, programed a new phone and visited Brown to deliver it and explain the telehealth options. Brown was later able to give his team a ring, just to say hello and confirm everything was fine.

“When we can’t contact someone under our care, we have great concern,” Brereton said.

The HUD-VASH team here has a system for acquiring and delivering phones to Veterans who need them, but they were able to deliver these particular phones thanks to a generous donation by T-Mobile. The new phones came enabled with data plans, so the team could deliver them for immediate use.

“I salute the efforts of my colleagues across VA in finding solutions. Within hours, several of our service organizations had reached out, with the Center for Strategic Partnerships identifying the most efficient solution,” said Sabrina Clark, director, VA Voluntary Services.

Deborah Scher, executive advisor to the VA secretary, Center for Strategic Partnerships, explained the crucial role of relationships during a time of crisis.

“Partnerships are critical to expanding our ability to meet Veterans’ needs during COVID-19,” Scher said. “We are grateful to T-Mobile and Sprint who have answered the call for help and stepped up to meet emerging demands at the VA New York Harbor Health Care System and other locations across the country.”

Fuller concluded with saying she’s personally seen a number of Veterans’ lives positively affected by these donations.

“They’re happening here and beyond. It’s amazing to see the impact,” Fuller said.


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