New VA Polytrauma Center Holds an Open House

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

It’s not your father’s VA anymore as evidenced by just one look inside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital at 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.

There’s a putting green, a two-story climbing wall, and an aquatic center for recreational therapy. Each of the 56 new private rooms has large windows for natural light, lush wood paneling, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, a desk and a large-screen TV so veterans and active duty personnel have direct access to education programs and entertainment.

“It doesn’t seem so sterile. I can see green grass. I can see Busch Gardens from here,” David VanMeter, an associate director at Haley who is in charge of facilities, said as he gazed out a second-story window. “There are different things to look at instead of just four cold walls.”

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is scheduled Saturday, April 12, 2014, at 1 p.m. followed by an open house.

Bringing the outside indoors is the theme of the new Polytrauma Center. The home-like environment is filled with technology and conveniences to make life easier for patients like a track system in the ceiling so immobile patients can be moved easily from their bed to the bathroom.

And private rooms are carved into neighborhoods with military inspired names such as Duty, Patriot and Valor. The idea is to create a healing environment where patients and their families feel at home.

So beyond the individual rooms along an angled extra-wide corridor, there are day rooms where families can socialize.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children's play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children’s play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

There’s a two-story atrium called “Main Street” that is lined with freeze-dried, 20-foot palm trees. The concept is bringing the outdoors inside.

Main Street is filled with natural light. It’s a place where veterans can relax at the internet café or take a turn at the two-story climbing wall.

“You have to think of the veterans on active duty we’re seeing. One day they are in the field. They are serving in combat. They are active. They are young. They have expectations a different generation of veterans may not have had,” VanMeter said. “And now, we’re trying to tool what we provide here to them.”

The hallways are angled so the design doesn't feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

The hallways are angled so the design doesn’t feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

Interior glass walls continue the open feeling allowing a view inside the rehabilitation center and the kitchen of the transitional apartment. And it’s overlooked by a balcony. The third floor is where the general rehabilitation and chronic pain patients call home.

One of the hidden gems on the second floor is an outdoor deck. It’s surrounded on all four sides by buildings. But there is direct access to open sky above complimented by wood planking below and planters filled with greenery to frame the space.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

The aquatic center is a prime example of bringing the outside indoors. The main therapy pool is enclosed on one side with glass doors that can be opened up to the recreational courtyard.

The smaller pool is like a high-tech treadmill that can be raised and lowered for easier patient access.

The recreational space outdoors has a multi-surface area where wheelchair patients can practice traversing stone, brick and gravel surfaces. There’s a putting green, basketball court and a horseshoe pit plus plenty of benches – some of them shaded – for those who want to feel the breeze and sun on their face.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

You can listen to an audio tour of the new James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

 

VA Patient Records at Center of Tug-of-War in Florida

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

State health care regulators showed up unannounced for a third time at a federal Veterans Administration Hospital in Florida and asked to view patient records.

That visit to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa Wednesday appears to be part of a tug-of-war between Gov. Rick Scott and federal VA hospitals.

The governor ordered state inspectors to review VA hospital records and conditions after a national VA investigation indicated that delayed treatment may have led to the deaths of three patients and injury of several others in the VA network that includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

None of those deaths occurred at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg or James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

And state health regulators were advised that federal law prohibits sharing VA patient records when they showed up at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital last week.

Yet, inspectors from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed up at Bay Pines Tuesday and at Haley Wednesday according a Haley VA public information officer.

“They asked to inspect our records and we’re working with them taking their concerns,” Karen Collins, James A. Haley PIO, said. “Basically, (the) VA is dealing with it on a regional and national level and to work with the governor’s office.”

Collins said the VA has responded and offered to meet with the governor and state regulators.

However, ACHA did not acknowledge the VA’s invitation. Instead, the agency sent out a press release within hours detailing how two surveyors arrived at Haley Veterans Hospital at 9:41 am and left at 10:02 am “after being declined the opportunity to review any processes.”

Later in the day, the governor’s press office sent out a release:

Governor Scott said, “For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital. I will continue to call for the VA to allow state surveyors to review their processes until the unanswered questions are addressed. I expected the VA to be open to an independent analysis, but they remain close-minded to my calls for accountability and transparency.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers. My office stands ready to dialogue with the VA about their lack of transparency, and with every VA hospital that turns away state inspectors, my concerns are more heightened, not diminished.”

In Washington, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on the “Continued Assessment of Delays VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.”

The prepared statement for John D. Daigh, Jr., M.D. from the Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, is available here.

Military Families Serve Too, So Center Offers Help

Family therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy, even weight management groups are all services that have been available at the USF Psychological Services Center for decades. Now, the center’s director, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army, is reaching out to the veteran and military families offering help.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

“We know that there are veterans, for whatever reason, are still hesitant about seeking services in the VA,” said Jack Darkes, director of the University of South Florida Psychological Services Center.

Veterans and active-duty personnel both worry that they could lose their security clearance or a possible promotion if it becomes known they’re seeking psychological help.

But because USF’s clinic does not take insurance, Darkes said, a client’s records are confidential.

“Being basically a private pay, our records are under the control of the individual who pays for them. There is no third party payer involved and therefore anything that would happen in our clinic is confidential within the limits of the law,” Darkes said.

The law says therapists must report child or elder abuse or if their client is a threat to themselves or someone else. Everything else is confidential.

Another attractive option at the USF clinic is the price. Fees are on a sliding scale. Continue reading

Florida Hosts Women Only Veterans Conference

Courtesy: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Courtesy: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

There are more than 160,000 women veterans living and working in Florida.

“Many of them don’t even realize – they’re veterans. They feel they’re not recognized as veterans,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) based at Bay Pines.

Larri Gerson used to be one of those women veterans. She now supervises benefits claims at the FDVA.

“I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years because I didn’t grow up in a military family,” Gerson said.

“It wasn’t until I came here working at the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs that I realized how important it is to have that knowledge.”

So, Florida is sponsoring its first Women’s Veterans Regional Conference, March 7 from 9 am to 1 pm, at the Veterans Affairs Regional Office, 9500 Bay Pines Blvd, St. Petersburg.

Dr. Betty Moseley Brown is the scheduled keynote speaker.

Dr. Betty Moseley Brown is the scheduled keynote speaker.

Navy veteran Cynthia Brown, a claims examiner and state women veterans’ coordinator, is organizing the conference around the current issues affecting women vets.

“Employment issues, homelessness, mental health and obviously health care and benefits,” Brown said.

One of those benefits rarely used by women is the government hiring preference extended to all veterans according to Jacquelyn Consentino, the FDVA veterans’ preference administrator.

“Men use it. They use it all the time, but for some reason when the women fill out their applications they just glide over it and don’t seem to use it,” Consentino said.

Consentino is one of several panelists who will field questions at the end during an open-microphone session.

“What I want them to know when they come to the conference, I’m here to help them,” Consentino said.

The conference is for women veterans only.

“A lot of times services are geared towards men and their needs and their health issues. But for women, we have separate needs and health issues and this allows for a forum for us to come together,” said Chava Grier, a former U.S. Army military police officer.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Betty Moseley Brown, associate director of the VA Center for Women Veterans of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Online registration is not required, but it is preferred. You can find more information at www.floridavets.org and register here.

Listen to the voices of some of Florida’s women veterans in a WUSF 89.7 FM news story.

Tampa’s Wheelchair Rugby Team Hosts Intn’l Tournament

An opposing team player is upended during a Tampa Generals game at the 2013 Coloplast International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament.

An opposing team player is upended during a Tampa Generals game at the 2013 Coloplast International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament.

The Tampa Bay region hosted the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in July 2013. It will be home to the “Frozen Four” in 2016 — and college football’s “championship game” in 2017.

But this weekend, it’s hosting the 22nd Annual Tampa International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament featuring teams from Germany, Brazil, and throughout the U.S. including the Tampa Generals.

Navy veteran Ryan "Bully" Lindstrom tapes up his hands and arms all the way to the elbows to help prevent injury during his rugby game.

Navy veteran Ryan “Bully” Lindstrom tapes up his hands and arms all the way to the elbows to help prevent injury during his rugby game.

The Tampa International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament is being held at the All Peoples Center, 6105 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa. Games are scheduled Friday, Saturday with the finals on Sunday.

Several members of the Tampa Generals Wheelchair Rugby Team are military veterans such as Ryan Lindstrom, nicknamed Bully for the tuft of white hair that looks like a bull’s-eye in his brownish crop of locks.

Lindstrom was in the Navy training to work on Tomahawk missiles when a car accident landed him in a wheelchair. But, that began his love quad rugby.

“I still had my neck brace on – watching them go up and down the court at a Tampa tournament 10 years ago – and I was ‘Oh yeah! I’m playing this’,” Lindstrom said at the team practice earlier this week. “Because the contact, it makes you feel like, you’re still an athlete. I know guys that play able body rugby and look at it and go I’m not playing that.”

The 2012-2013 Tampa Generals team photo.

The 2012-2013 Tampa Generals team photo.

Wheelchair rugby is a hybrid with all the strategy of basketball, the scoring system of rugby, the speed of ice hockey and the danger of a demolition derby.

Lindstrom needed nine stitches above his right eye after one fall. Another time, he almost lost his left finger after it got caught between two colliding wheelchairs. But that physical roughness is exactly what attracts many of the players.

Chuck Wood used to play football and was an active scuba diver before a motorcycle accident made him a paraplegic.

“To get in a wheelchair and to find a sport that you can still be aggressive at and have contact, it’s such a good outlet for people in chairs to realize there are still things you can do,” Wood said. “Just because you’re in a chair don’t mean you have to stop living.”

Briona Keeshan, 20, is in her second season with the Tampa Generals.

Briona Keeshan, 20, is in her second season with the Tampa Generals.

Wood is part of the Tampa Generals’ support staff. He works on equipment and plays on the practice squad. He is too “high functioning” to be on the team because the athletes must be quads – have some disability in all four limbs.

But they are athletes make no mistake. They prepare and practice like any athlete.

To make the game more even each player is given a classification number of 1 through 5. The total for the four rugby players on the court cannot exceed 8.

The classification number is knocked down a half point for female players like Briona Keeshan. She called herself a “low-pointer.”

“As a low pointer, you have to, if you’re running a play and someone on your team is trying to score, you have to get in the way of the other players and try to stop them,” Keeshan said. “Like in football, you have tackling but here you just stop them with your chair.”

The 20-year-old is in her second season with the Tampa Generals. This is also the second season for Leevi Ylönen a “high-pointer” and one of the fastest on the court.

 Leevi Ylönen, a member of the Finnish National Wheelchair Rugby Team, was recruited to play with the Tampa Generals.

Leevi Ylönen, a member of the Finnish National Wheelchair Rugby Team, was recruited to play with the Tampa Generals.

“I’m a high pointer that means I’ve got lots of function and I’ll be dealing with the ball that’s my job. So, I need to be speedy,” Ylönen said.

The Tampa Generals recruited Ylönen who plays on the Finnish National Team. Just like back in 1996 when the Tampa Generals recruited Dave Ceruti while he was member of the U.S. National team.

“They (Tampa Generals) were the first super power team in the sport where they just dominated,” Ceruti said. “Back then, the Tampa Generals were the gold standard of rugby.”

Ceruti, who goes by Rudy, became a player, then a player-coach, coach and now serves as assistant coach for the Generals. He said the team slipped in its standings a few years back while it was developing a local player base, but the Generals are climbing back to their former dominance.

Navy veteran Davis Celestine plays an offense position with the Tampa Generals.

Navy veteran Davis Celestine plays an offense position with the Tampa Generals.

And the international tournament is part of the team’s path back to the top of the standings.

The tournament is free and open to the public and Ceruti said it’s a fun game for the general public to watch, but with one caveat.

“Most people look at it as a human interest story – like a feel good story – like it’s good that you’re out there and if you want to feel that way fine,” Certuti said. “But that’s not why we’re doing it. We are doing it to win.”

You can listen to a radio story about the Tampa Generals on WUSF Public Radio and watch a practice video of the team below:

Wanted: Student Veterans with Kids for a Survey

Credit: USF Coming Home Project.

Credit: USF Coming Home Project.

The number of veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed 1 million in November according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. And the number of student veterans is expected to swell as another million service members transition out of the military over the next five years.

It raises the challenge of how to best help those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans transition into an educational setting.

So, a team of University of South Florida graduate students created the Coming Home research project. They had noticed there was very little research that followed the children of veterans after they returned from deployment and as they transitioned out of the military.

So the researchers designed a 20-minute survey to identify the physical and mental stresses experienced by student veterans and their children.

“According to literature, it has been shown that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are experiencing more post-traumatic stress, depression, suicide,” said Esther Davila, a doctoral student with the USF Psychology Program. “So if we can kind of start pinpointing those, I think it will help streamline treatment for veterans a little better.”

The Coming Home team needs 100 student veterans to participate. The criteria are pretty straightforward:

  • Must be a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan
  • Must be a student at any of the USF campuses or Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus
  • Must have at least one child between 6 and 18 years old

Active-duty service members who fit those qualifications can also participate

The Coming Home project offers a $15 incentive for student veterans who complete the survey and they can be entered into a drawing for $100. But the true payoff could be their survey findings.

To participate, you can email vetreintigraton@gmail.com or call 813-974-9222 and ask to speak to a member of the Coming Home team to set up an appointment.

Softball Games to Benefit Adaptive Sports for Vets and Kids

Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg, FL. Photo courtesy of StPete.org

Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg, FL. Photo courtesy of StPete.org

Are you ready for some softball?

A Softball Exhibition featuring athletes of all talent levels is planned as part of the First Annual Wounded Warrior Games scheduled Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013 at Al Lang Stadium, 230 1st St SE, St Petersburg, FL. The gates open at noon.

Game one will feature VETSports  against a team from St. Pete Fire and Rescue. Game two will pits VETSports players versus the St. Pete Police Department team. Game three will conclude the series with alumni from Major League Baseball and local Tampa Bay Rays players taking on the VETSports team.

VetSports and St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue/St. Petersburg Police are hosting the event to raise awareness and provide support for returning wounded warriors. The Kiwanis Miracle League which provides special needs children with adaptive sports equipment and facilities for the children in their program is partnering with VETSports. Funds generated from this event will provide a greater outreach in the community for adaptive sports through VETSports and the Kiwanis Miracle League.

In addition to the three softball games, there will be a silent auction, a raffle, entertainment and appearances by local mascots such as SPARKY the fire dog and Raymond from the Tampa Bay Rays. The St. Petersburg fire fighters and Police departments K-9 units will demonstrate their skills.

Admission is $10 for the general public, $5 for military and children 14 and younger are free. You can contact Brian_Taylor@vetsport.org for information on tickets and VETSports, a non-profit organization.

VA Innovation Cuts Paperwork, Offers Flu Shot Options

Courtesy of VA

Courtesy of VA

Veterans in Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can now get a flu shot at any of more than 800 Walgreen’s locations and the drug store can electronically forward their immunization record to the VA.

It’s a pilot program, being tried out in the Veterans Integrated Service Network 8 (VISN8). It requires no paper record, no remembering at the next VA health care appointment.

Enrolled veterans can still receive a flu shot at no cost during their regularly scheduled VA visit, on admission into a VA facility and at a VA walk-in flu station. There’s usually a charge for a flu shot at a pharmacy or private health care provider outside of the VA unless the veterans’ private insurance or Medicare covers the cost.

Veterans who are in the Florida, VISN 8 region can find details on the pilot program at their local VA medical center or clinic, or go to www.walgreens.com and at the VISN 8 home page here.

Information in this report was provided by Douglas Trauner, the Entrepreneur in Residence for the VA Center for Innovation.

Guest Column: On Delivering Quality Care to Vets

Susan M. Klinker, director of Bay Pines Healthcare Systems.

Susan M. Klinker, director of Bay Pines Healthcare Systems.

By Suzanne M. Klinker, Director, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

As the State of Florida officially observes Healthcare Quality Week October 20-26, I recognize our dedicated VA health care professionals for the work they do to provide the very best health care to our nation’s heroes.

At Bay Pines, our dedicated employees – many of whom are Veterans themselves – come to work every day at our medical center located in Bay Pines and clinics across southwest Florida to deliver high quality health care that is personalized, proactive and patient-driven.  They pride themselves for the work they do not only in their own profession, but also for the personalized attention they are able to provide to each Veteran, each family, while honoring service and empowering health.

It is by no coincidence that our health care quality achievements are reflective of this unique and personalized model of health care delivery; a model recognized nationally as a best performer.

Just this year, our organization celebrated several successful accreditations.  Most notably, we were accredited by The Joint Commission in several program areas to include: Hospital, Behavioral Health, Long Term Care and Home Care.  The Joint Commission accreditation and certification is recognized nationwide as a true symbol of health care quality.  It is reflective of an organization’s commitment to delivering safe, high quality health care.  In addition, we received accreditation or certifications from the Long Term Care Institute, Food and Drug Administration, American Association of Blood Banks, Nuclear Regulatory Commission – National Health Physics Program, and American College of Radiology. 

At Bay Pines, as we celebrate Healthcare Quality Week, I extend personal appreciation to our dedicated professionals as they continue to deliver the very best health care our nation has to offer.   I would be remiss if I did not thank the men and women – our nation’s heroes – for whom we have the privilege and honor to serve.  Thank you for entrusting us with your health care, and most importantly, thank you for your courage, sacrifice, and service to this great nation.  You are the reason why we are all here and why we strive to provide the best care anywhere.

 

A Green Beret Busting Myths About PTSD

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

Saint Leo University veteran student Brian Anderson is willing to talk about his experience with post-traumatic stress to bust myths held by the general public.

The U.S. military is downsizing. The war in Iraq is over, and combat troops are due out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. So more than 1 million service members are expected to enter the civilian workforce in the coming years.

That’s why two veterans are on a mission to help employers and the community in general separate fact from fiction when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder.

First, not every veteran has PTSD. It affects only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of combat veterans, according to Saint Leo University associate professor Dr. Jim Whitworth, a 21-year Air Force veteran with a Ph.D. in social work.

There’s a lot to understand about post-traumatic stress and the best teachers are those with the diagnosis. However, most veterans are not comfortable talking about their traumatic experiences.

That’s where the bravery of Brian Anderson shines through. He is willing to share what can be painful details so clinicians, the public and employers have a better understanding of returning veterans.

Anderson joined the military because of September 11th. His first hitch in the Army was as a photo-print journalist with the 82nd Airborne Division. Anderson then became a Green Beret.

“I killed my first man on Dec. 31st 2008. And, you know, at that point it was more of a high-five type experience.  I was psyched. I was really pumped about it,” Anderson said. “The second deployment, I went in, our very first fire-fight was eight hours long. And we killed 39 Taliban that day and we had a couple of our guys wounded. Continue reading

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