A Veterans Affairs hospital is notorious for blending the headaches of healthcare and government bureaucracy in one place. To solve that, the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) is saying “the Red Coats are coming!”
It’s not an 18th century invading army, but an army of hospital staffers trying to change the agency's image and deliver better care.
“We are a very large complex hospital system with two campuses,” said Jennifer Bullock, program administrator for Vet-centered care at CAVHS. “Both of our campuses are very large and it can be very confusing to try and navigate your way around the facility.”
The two hospitals in Little Rock and North Little Rock see thousands of men and women daily. They served their country. They took and gave orders, but a trip into the health care system can freeze even a hardened vet.
Bullock’s day started with a training class for staffers from various departments. They brushed up on customer service procedures and will welcome and in some cases, walk with veterans as they arrive to the hospital. They wear red badges and eventually red sports coats.
“Our ambassadors are there to assist them,” Bullock said. “They greet them and make sure that they know where they're going that day and helping them navigate the facility.”
Moments after stepping off an elevator, Bullock ran into James Davis of Russellville. He was following signs, trying to find Radiology for x-rays ahead of shoulder surgery. Bullock walked him to his appointment.
“It helps a lot because a lot of times it's very difficult to find where you're going,” Davis said.
While there are staff shortages at CAVHS, Bullock insisted other departments can spare the hour to help the cause.
“What we want to do here at the VA is expand it to all of our staff,” she said. “We feel like we take ownership of the experience that our veterans have here.”
Some of these patients willingly shared their experiences, both good and bad. Bullock, who is a social worker by training and once headed suicide prevention efforts at CAVHS, welcomes hearing those stories.
One Vietnam vet told her he once felt like he'd get better treatment from the Viet Cong than the American public when he got home years ago. But he also said that has changed over the years.
“I take that seriously that people are willing to share their stories with me about what they've experienced whether it's during their time in service or during the care that they've received here at the VA,” Bullock said.
Staffers are on-the-clock when they work these ambassador shifts, but no one will get overtime. Critical care medical staff, including nurses where there is a major staff shortage, won’t be asked to break away from their work, though they are welcome if they can spare the time