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Charles George VA Medical Center

Western North Carolina VA Health Care System copes with COVID-19 restrictions, continues great care

By Vance Janes

Charles George VA Medical Center Public Affairs Officer

The current environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic has provided unique opportunities for VA healthcare providers to go above and beyond in serving Veterans - even if it means catching up with them while they’re turkey hunting.

New Ways to See Veterans

Dr. David Wells, a Charles George VA Medical Center Primary Care physician, recently completed a phone visit with a 51-year-old Western North Carolina Veteran on Turkey Tuesday.

“He was sitting in a tree stand turkey hunting, and told me to wait a minute,” Wells said. “It might have been because he saw a turkey.”

Brittany Brannigan, Facility Telehealth Coordinator. said that while it may seem like a funny little story, it’s indicative of how Western North Carolina VA Health Care System employees are adapting to the changes which have taken place because of the COVID-19 situation.

Virtual care and telehealth have become commonplace due to social distancing, and a lot of effort has been focused on ensuring that our Veterans still receive the highest quality of care. In some cases, the additional vigilance that comes with telehealth pays off.

In one example, Occupational Therapist Patrick Meler was performing a Video Connect appointment with a Veteran when he noticed something visibly concerning. Meler notified Dr. Wells, who took immediate action. After talking with the Veteran and coordinating an urgent MRI, the Veteran was discovered to have a serious condition requiring a referral to a neurosurgeon.

In terms of our providers’ increased reliance on the use of telehealth, Melissa Edwards, Chief of Community Based Outpatient Clinic and Telehealth said, “our providers were initially hesitant. But with one-on-one training, providers are now feeling confident with the process. They’re requesting to keep VA Video Connect and Virtual care options moving forward after COVID-19.”

Stop and Trust

Craig Holbert, Chief Supply Chain Officer, said things may have changed, but the staff is supportive.

“The majority of responses from the staff have been appreciative and helpful,” Holbert said. “Most of them understand the need to be teamwork-oriented and in doing so, are supportive of such changes.”

He also said that as time continues to pass, flexibility is key.

“Our ‘business as usual’ has had to become a completely new type of ‘business as usual,’” he said. “The one thing that has remained the same is how much our staff members are always willing to go above and beyond into the new, next best plan for the good of the Veterans we serve.

“I’ve been continually impressed by their willingness to be reassigned to new positions, to work in new places around the hospital, and in helping to collaborate and invent new procedures to maintain the highest level of professionalism and safety in the midst of these uncertain circumstances.”

Holbert said times of crisis can make things feel uncertain, but for him, the cure for that uncertainty is all around him.

“My advice is to stop and trust,” he said. “The reason I can do that so easily is because I truly believe that everyone walking in this hospital has the best intentions to take care of each other – especially to pay back our heroes for what they’ve already given for us.”

Everyone’s committed

Christine Cooper, CGVAMC Local Recovery Coordinator, echoed others’ sentiments and said changes in mental health services were quick but handled efficiently.

“I’ve been so impressed with the adaptability of my team, the Peer Specialists, and with the Veterans we serve,” she said. “We fully transitioned from in-person group meetings to telephone and video-conference meetings in one day.”

Cooper said that even in these challenging times, Peer Specialists are starting new groups and finding ways to connect inpatient Veterans to telehealth resources. Peer Specialists and Recreational Therapists have also developed comprehensive mailings of detailed community resources to be available for Veterans.

“We miss seeing the Veterans we serve in person,” Cooper said, “but everyone is committed to continue providing excellent service through any changes we may face.”

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Safe Mental Health Care During the COVID-19 Outbreak

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Now more than ever, the Western North Carolina VA Health Care System is committed to providing high-quality mental health care while keeping Veterans safe from exposure to the coronavirus. To help reduce the risk of infection at the facility, Charles George VA Medical Center asks that Veterans use VA’s online resources for routine or non-urgent mental health care and questions. This will help protect Veterans from contracting COVID-19 while enabling CGVAMC providers to focus on care for Veterans with the most acute needs.

“Due to COVID-19 precautionary measures, and out of concern for our local Veterans, we are honoring current physical distancing guidelines,” said Dr. Laura Tugman, the Mental Health Services assistant chief here. “Through VA’s virtual care tools, we are able to leverage available technology to make sure that our patients and staff are as safe as possible during this time

VA offers Veterans a variety of at-home resources, including the following:

Telephone or Video Appointments – Veterans should maintain their existing mental health appointments — and may receive care at home — using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones, or tablets. To set up telephone or video appointments, Veterans can send their health care provider a secure message on My HealtheVet by visiting myhealth.va.gov or call CGVAMC’s Mental Health clinic to schedule at (828) 298-7911 ext. 2519. Veterans can learn more about VA Video Connect here .

Mental Health Peer Support Specialist Groups – Veterans can continue to stay connected with our Veteran recovery community by attending our Peer-led groups including Wellness Recovery Action Planning, Navigating Relationships and Veteran “X” in a virtual platform. For more information on how to attend a Peer-led group, contact your current Mental Health provider.

Prescription Refills and Safety – Veterans should continue taking all medications as prescribed and talk to their mental health provider if they have any concerns. Veterans may request prescription refills and order shipments of medications to their homes using My HealtheVet or the Rx Refill mobile app, which can be downloaded here . VA’s Safe Home Environment handout provides information on safely storing medications in the home.

Mental Health Information and Resources – VA provides information on ways for Veterans and their families to maintain and enhance their mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak. Information about managing stress and anxiety, as well as mental health resources, are available here.

Text Message Reminders – Veterans can use Annie’s Coronavirus Precautions protocol to send automated text messages with information about COVID-19. This application helps Veterans monitor their symptoms and can assist those who need to contact their VA facility for care. Veterans may enroll in the app here.

Mental Health Month – This May, VA is observing Mental Health Month by emphasizing that “Now Is the Time.” Even during the coronavirus outbreak, Veterans can still prioritize their mental health. Veterans and their families can visit here to learn more about mental health resources and hear stories of recovery from other Veterans.

For more information on ways Veterans can maintain and enhance their mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit here. For the most up to date information follow the CGVAMC on Facebook at @AshevilleVAMC or visit the website.

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