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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Community Partnership Challenge series: How initiatives within the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation promote patient-centered care for Veterans across the social determinants of health

This is the fourth in a series of articles about how various VA and VHA offices, initiatives, and programs support social determinants of health—the theme of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge. The fourth Community Partnership Challenge series feature: the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation. You can read the first three articles in the series here, here, and here.

The overarching mission of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation (OPCC&CT) is to support and advance the concept of “Whole Health.” Whole Health is an approach to health care that empowers and equips people to take charge of their health and well-being. A Whole Health approach shifts the health care system away from a primary focus on disease management to one that emphasizes a more proactive and comprehensive view of a person’s health and well-being.

Many of the other factors that impact a person’s well-being are collectively known as the social determinants of health (SDOH). These are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, play, worship, and age. Six of these conditions are the theme of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge, led by VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE): Employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, education, and transportation. When Veterans have access to positive SDOH such as these, they lead healthier lives.

The Whole Health model involves the consideration of many SDOH. Through its implementation of the model into Veterans’ health care, as well as its educational programming around Whole Health, OPCC&CT is helping Veterans access services to support their needs across SDOH.

Dr. Michelle Dorsey, senior clinical advisor for OPCC&CT and chief judge of this year’s Community Partnership Challenge, and Dr. Ben Kligler, acting executive director of OPCC&CT, shared the office’s “Circle of Health,” which illustrates the connections between a person’s health and other aspects of their life. There are eight categories in the Circle of Health that can affect the individual at the center of the circle:

  • Moving the body: Energy and flexibility
  • Surroundings: Physical and emotional
  • Personal development: Personal life and work life
  • Food and drink: Nourishing and fueling
  • Recharge: Sleep and refresh
  • Family, friends, and co-workers: Relationships
  • Spirit and soul: Growing and connecting
  • Power of the mind: Relaxing and healing

The categories within the Circle of Health overlap with many of the SDOH that are the focus of OCE’s Challenge this year. For example, Dr. Kligler said, OPCC&CT helps connect Veterans within the VA health care system with chaplains for spiritual support. Dr. Dorsey explained that her office has been including the expertise and resources of the Veteran Benefits Administration (VBA) into its work, so that Veterans may have support for their employment needs—VBA offers many professional opportunities to Veterans.  

From an educational perspective, OPCC&CT staff members introduce Veterans to Whole Health concepts in various settings, said Dr. Kligler. Veterans can find online Whole Health educational sessions on OPCC&CT’s website. In-person sessions and peer-led groups are offered by individual VA facilities, such as a group called “Introduction to Whole Health,” which is a one- to two-hour long session led by a trained facilitator or staff member.

“They get introduced to the idea of what’s different about Whole Health,” Dr. Kligler explained. “If they’re interested in going from there, [Veterans can attend] ‘Taking Charge of My Life and Health’ courses.”

In those courses, he said, the core curriculum is eight-to-nine weeks of meetings where Veterans will discuss the Circle of Health and how they can be empowered to introduce each category into their lives.

“A lot of times these happen face-to-face, but they’re also happening via Telehealth,” Dr. Kligler said. “It’s meant to be extremely flexible.” Some Veterans have these conversations with a staff member one-on-one, but the peer groups offer an opportunity for Veterans to experience social engagement and support as well.

VA or VHA staff can also sign up for three-day trainings that teach them how to facilitate these groups. Dr. Kligler said that OPCC&CT staff members are also training Veterans to lead the groups. This is beneficial for Veterans’ personal development.

Dr. Dorsey said that these groups are positive for all involved: “It’s not just benefitting the Veterans, it really benefits all of us,” she said, of how the groups are beneficial for staff members, too. “I feel like that is going to be a way to help reduce burnout and turnover.” Last year, OPCC&CT reached 10,000 staff members with its educational programs.

“We were very excited to be diving into this work,” said Dr. Dorsey of the SDOH. “The good news is there are many people working in this space, and it’s been great to work with folks across the agency who are working on this issue.”

She also explained how important partnerships, such as those that will be recognized by OCE’s Community Partnership Challenge, are for Veterans’ health and well-being.

“As the Community Partnership Challenge moves forward and the winning community groups get selected and featured, we’re going to include those best practices into our educational [programming]” Dr. Dorsey said. “VA cannot do these things on its own. We need to leverage our community partners.”

For more on Whole Health and how to get involved, please visit: more information on OCE’s work or to contact OCE for partnership opportunities, please visit:

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

Posted May 7, 2020