Health Care and Human Resources

Hospital program helps veterans with care — and aftercare

Spectrum’s Veteran Support Services specializes in health and advocacy.

April 22, 2016
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Spectrum Health Veteran Support services dog
John Hendrick is one of the participants in the Veteran Support Services program at Spectrum Health. Courtesy Spectrum Health

A West Michigan hospital group has launched a program to help veterans both during their stay and following their release.

In the fall, Spectrum Health started its Veteran Support Services program with the goal of identifying, recognizing and advocating for veteran patients.

Danielle Montag, Veteran Support Services patient experience associate, said the program is intended to improve the patient experience for veterans during their hospital stay and to help them realize better outcomes by connecting them with resources they might need upon release.

She said when a patient is admitted to the hospital, a nurse interviews the patient and determines if he or she is a veteran. If so, the patient is asked if a small static-cling flag may be placed in his or her room in recognition of the person’s service.

“We’ll say, ‘We see that you are a veteran and we really appreciate your service and we want to raise this flag in your honor. Can we do that?” Montag explained.

She said identifying a patient as a veteran can help the care team in working with the patient, and it provides an opportunity to assist the patient with any resources he or she might need upon release from the hospital.

“We are working toward making sure we are healing the whole person,” Montag said. “How can we do that if their home life isn’t good? If they can’t pay their bills and are stressed? It is all-encompassing.

“How can we provide good health care if we are just going to see them again and we aren’t taking care of some of their major needs? If they are having issues financially, with housing — anything — we want to be able to connect them with the proper resources so they can get that taken care of and alleviate some of that stress for them.”

Montag said when asked, veterans often say they’ve had a difficult time finding a physician who is familiar with issues veterans face.

“Even when you go to a VA, most of the doctors aren’t veterans themselves,” she said. “So trying to find a doctor who is familiar with a lot of the medical issues that could be related to being in the military, such as mental health issues, it’s definitely good for us to be able to identify them through registration, and then the physicians can see that and have a conversation.”

She said it’s also important for coordination of care.

“When somebody is leaving the facility, maybe transferring to a VA facility, we really want to be able to give a warm handoff,” she said.

Montag said Spectrum has been working on improving communications with Michigan VAs to improve overall care.

“With this program I’m able to make some of the connections our care management team wouldn’t have time to do. I think it’s beneficial,” she said.

The Veterans Support Services program is an outgrowth of another veteran-focused program at Spectrum, the Veteran Explorers Program, which Montag said is akin to an internship-type program.

“That program is based around employment,” she said.

VEP’s goal is to train veterans for jobs at Spectrum Health. Montag is a graduate of that program.

“During my Veteran Explorers time, myself and three other individuals, we were toying around with the idea: We have this great program that is supporting veterans as far as employment, but what about the patients? What about everybody else?”

She said after pitching the new program to Spectrum leadership, the group was encouraged to research how many veterans come through Spectrum Health each day. She said they discovered 35 percent of the patient population in Michigan is enrolled in the VA, and of those, many are dual enrolled. “So they go outside the VA to civilian health care facilities,” she said.

Montag said through the team’s research, Spectrum Health learned 20 percent of the patients it sees on a daily basis are veterans.

Since launching Veteran Support Services, Spectrum has worked with 400 veterans.

Montag said the program has also led to another veteran-focused program at Spectrum Health, its Veteran Inclusion Resource Group for employees.

“We’ve been trying to ID veterans and veteran-friendly employees who want to be part of this group, which is also going to be a platform to keep educating staff but also focusing on various community efforts,” she said.

The Veteran Inclusion Resource Group is currently working to organize an event called 2017 LZ (Landing Zone) Michigan, a celebration for all Michigan veterans.

Montag said her passion for veteran programs comes from her own experience as a veteran.

“I was medically retired in 2011 and I came home from Texas and I thought ‘no problem,’ but I couldn’t believe how hard it was to figure out who to call,” she said. “I couldn’t get into the VA for almost a year because nobody would answer the phone. It was so hard. Even just trying to find a veterans’ service officer, I couldn’t find anything, and I’m pretty tech savvy.”

Montag said there have been improvements for veterans since then, including the founding of the Veterans Community Action Team and the West Michigan Veterans Coalition — organizations that help veterans find resources and connect.

“One of my goals is to be able to help our veterans out so they aren’t struggling like I was,” she said. “I’m hoping to make life easier for them to get what they need.”

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