It was Albert Einstein who once said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” At the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, our staff embodies that sentiment, and one of those employees is Maternity Care Coordinator, Charmaine E. Gabino-Crooke.
“My grandfather was a Korean War Veteran who served in the U.S. Army,” Gabino-Crooke shared. “When I was a little girl, I always said that I was going to become a nurse. Later in life, I decided that I was going to be a nurse and go to the VA system to take care of Veterans like my grandpa.”
In August, Gabino-Crooke celebrates 19 years with VA. She began her career in the medicine ward at the San Juan VA Medical Center in Puerto Rico. From there, she transitioned to primary care before eventually being asked to pilot the maternity care program there in 2014.
“When you work on the floor you meet a lot of Veterans,” Gabino-Crooke said. “I always found it challenging working with female Veterans because they have an entirely separate set of needs and experiences than the males.”
At the time, Gabino-Crooke felt apprehensive about the role she was undertaking. Now, after nearly 10 years of serving expectant women Veterans, she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really fell in love with this population. Everything I do is for them,” Gabino-Crooke shared. “A lot of them are working through PTSD and MST, while also fighting to be valued in a man’s world. Sometimes, they feel like they must stand by themselves.”
Because of this awareness, whenever a female Veteran presents to Bay Pines VA’s Women’s Health Clinic, Gabino-Crooke says she makes it a point to “let them know they got this and that I’ve got them.”
Bay Pines VA covers the costs for everything associated with maternity care as well as all expenses incurred during the baby’s first seven days of life. Earlier this year, VA announced plans to expand the reproductive health care services offered to female Veterans.
“You can think of me as a liaison between Bay Pines VA and the care our expectant Veterans receive in the community,” Gabino-Crooke said. “I help them get established with a doctor in the community, constantly follow up with them to make sure they’re hitting all the markers and provide them education so they’re well prepared as they go through this change.”
In her role, Gabino-Crooke serves as the sole coordinator for every pregnant woman Veteran who entrusts Bay Pines VA with their care; this includes the women who receive services from one of the eight outlying clinics in our 10-county catchment area.
“The VA has honestly been the biggest blessing for me. As soon as I connected with Charmaine, she was immediately very kind and personable,” said U.S. Army Veteran Tera Anderson. “She checked on me monthly, facilitated all the orders throughout my pregnancy and got me things I didn’t even think the VA provided. She felt like family, and I felt really taken care of.”
There is no limit to the number of times a woman Veteran can seek maternity care and Gabino-Crooke has experienced the joy of aiding expectant mothers through multiple pregnancies. To date, Bay Pines VA has provided care to 91 expectant mothers during fiscal year 23.
“There are a lot of patients who use the maternity program maybe two, three, or four times,” Gabino-Crooke said. “Each time, I go the extra mile because I want them to get the services they deserve and
part of that is making sure they know they're not alone.”
Women Veterans who would like to enroll in Bay Pines VA should contact the Women Veteran Program Manager or click here to learn more. For more information about VA’s reproductive services, visit https://www.womenshealth.va.gov/topics/maternity-care.asp.