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Vulnerable Patients High Priority for Bay Pines VA During 2023 Hurricane Season

Readiness Exercise
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s Associate Director and Incident Commander Sean Turner reviews response metrics with Shaun Hilzman, Incident Command Situation Unit Leader and VEText lead during a hybrid readiness exercise at C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, June 6. The exercise tested the organization’s processes for identifying and communicating with vulnerable Veterans as part of their hurricane seasonal readiness training. (Photo by Bay Pines VA Public Affairs).

Nine months removed from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System continues to strengthen its readiness and response efforts to support Veterans as the possibility of inclement weather strengthens for this year’s hurricane season in southwest Florida.

The organization’s latest event – a mock incident command exercise, presented an opportunity to test Bay Pines VA’s coordination and outreach communications for Veterans identified as part of the vulnerable population.

“When the effects of severe weather forecast for a loss of electricity, flooding, and barriers to transportation that prevent receiving treatment, it’s our responsibility to let those Veterans and their loved ones know that we’re here to help,” added Melissa Wallach who served as the lead for Emergency Management during the exercise.

Across the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans identified as part of a vulnerable population are Veterans receiving services as support in the following areas:

  • Dialysis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Home-based primary care
  • Home oxygen
  • Homecare
  • Homeless Veterans
  • Mental health
  • Nursing homes
  • Oncology
  • Telehealth

Following the exercises, a determination was made to also include expecting women Veterans who have high-risk pregnancy concerns.

“Veterans, families, and caregivers entrust us with their health care needs, and it remains our goal to reinforce their confidence and trust in us during hurricane season,” said Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Associate Director Sean Turner who served as the Incident Commander for the exercise. “What we have done here today is beneficial to refining our processes and codifying our roles and responsibilities; I could not be more pleased with the team we have and their commitment to one another and those we serve.”

Prior to Memorial Day, Bay Pines VA reached out to selected Veterans who are part of the vulnerable population and informed them of the upcoming exercise.

“The use of VEText continues to be a reliable way for us to easily communicate with Veterans, whether it be appointment reminders, pharmacy refills, or emergency situations like what we’re testing through this exercise,” added Turner. “Veterans can opt-in or out of VEText at any time, but we strongly encourage them to consider this means of communication as essential to our efforts of supporting their health care journey with us.”

Observing the exercise was VISN 8 Program Specialist and National Project Manager Jon Esteban who offered compliments to the team and cited best practices that he plans to elevate throughout VA.

“Bay Pines VA is usually at the forefront of initiatives and innovation, and it’s great to see this team in action,” added Esteban. “What I saw here today is this team remaining mindful of taking key points from those in charge and working together to define the wants and needs of those we serve as part of the exercise.”

Hurricane season in Florida is June through the end of November. Last month NOAA Executive Director Mike Brennen stated, “We’re expecting a busy season with 12- to 17-named storms…five to nine of which could become hurricanes and one to four of those storms becoming major hurricanes.”

Bay Pines VA leaders, along with VISN 8 leadership, have already begun socializing important reminders about hurricane season and the steps Veterans, employees, family members, and caregivers can take to stay informed and prepared before an official announcement of a hurricane becomes imminent.

Veterans can sign up for local text messaging and email updates from Bay Pines VA here.

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