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Nurses: Meeting the Health Care Needs of Veterans

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A nurse scopes the ear of a senior Veteran

“The men were more contented, knowing that help and skillful attendance was always at hand.” Colonel John L. Mitchell, July 18, 1890

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the nation’s largest single employer of nurses.

Today, VA’s nursing workforce includes more than 90,000 professionals, comprised of registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, licensed practical and vocational nurses and nursing assistants.

VA nurses are key players in the forward looking transformation efforts shaping VHA health care every day. They serve and honor the nation’s Veterans and their families with concern and compassion. VA nurses impact quality and safety for our Veterans through their astute clinical services, research efforts, informatics talent and academic initiatives.

This is National Nurses Week, a time to honor VA nurses’ contributions to the VA health care system, both in the role they play as clinicians and as leaders who can dramatically influence the quality of care.

According to Christine Engstrom, Interim VA Chief Nursing Officer, “It is a privilege to work with our more than 90,000 nursing staff to develop approaches to improve the quality, safety and effectiveness of VA nursing practice and enhance the experience for all Veterans who receive our care.”

 You are recognized today for all that you have done and will continue to do in the future. 

VA nurses from across the country truly embody the theme of this year’s National Nurses Week: “Nurses Leading the Way.” Talented VA nurses meet Veterans’ needs with compassion and skill, in a time of health care transformation. In fact, VA nursing has taken the lead in many efforts driving towards success in VHA’s transformation into a 21st century organization.

Annually, National Nurses Week begins on May 6, marked as Nurse Recognition Day, and ends on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, founder of nursing as a modern profession. During this week, nurses at VA medical centers are honored with rallies, community health screenings, childhood immunization efforts, dinners, receptions and hospital events.

VA nurses are integral and equal members of the VA health care team of professionals. No health care professional is closer to the Veterans we care for than a VA nurse. Veterans and families rely on them for their compassion and VA relies on them for setting the highest clinical care standards. That reliance is well placed. Here are just a couple of the thousands in VA’s remarkable nursing workforce.

Home Away From Home

A nurse hugs a senior Veteran

Army Veteran Mario Raimondi and Nursing Assistant Alfredina Lartey.

Born in Ghana, Alfredina Lartey, Nursing Assistant, VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, has lived in New York for the past 20 years. But, home is also working with Veterans at VA’s Community Living Center, St. Albans Campus. Asked if she likes her job, Lartey replies, “Are you kidding? I love it. I enjoy the environment. It’s a privilege working with the Veterans.” Her Employee of the Month Award provided a moving account of her dedication to a population of mostly very elderly Veterans who reside at this long term care facility:

“Ms. Lartey comes to work each day with a positive attitude, ready and willing to work with staff and residents. She frequently takes her lunch break with the residents, escorting them onto the grounds to enjoy a breath of fresh air. She interacts and listens to the residents and their loved ones. She has an excellent rapport with the interdisciplinary team and always has a smile on her face, no matter how heavy the workload.”

The highest level of patient centered care

A nurse sits at a table with a senior Veteran

Navy Veteran Hugh Becker sits with Janice Byrd, Nurse Manager for the Community Living Center.

Janice Byrd, Nurse Manager in the Community Living Center/Palliative Unit at the Martinsburg, West Virginia VA Medical Center, received the Marsha Goodwin-Beck Award for Excellence in Geriatric Leadership. The award is given to an individual health care provider in a leadership position who has demonstrated excellence through exceptional support for direct patient care providers, for geriatric education and training and geriatric health policy leadership.

Byrd’s compassion and caring extend beyond serving Veterans. She is active in community service activities such as: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Diabetic Association and the Community Smoking Cessation Program in Hagerstown, Maryland. She has also worked with Reach International Children’s Home in Honduras and the El Salvador Children’s Orphanage.

“I am truly honored to be recognized for this award,” said Byrd. “I have been a nurse for more than 40 years and have always enjoyed taking care of my patients.”

As Christine Engstrom added, to all VA nurses, “It is with the deepest gratitude and respect for your excellence in service, your exceptional knowledge and talent, and your kindness and passion for providing the best nursing care, that you are recognized today for all that you have done and will continue to do in the future.”