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Orlando VA Medical Center’s Patient Ambassador program works to exceed Veteran’s expectations

Pictured in photo: Patient Ambassador, Rudi Heinrich takes U.S. Army Veteran patient, Reinaldo Gonzalez to physical therapy appointment at the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona, Orlando Florida.
Pictured in photo: Patient Ambassador, Rudi Heinrich takes U.S. Army Veteran patient, Reinaldo Gonzalez to physical therapy appointment at the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona, Orlando Florida.

The Patient Ambassador program at the Orlando VA Medical Center (Orlando VAMC) in Lake Nona, Orlando Florida plays an important role assisting Veterans in need, explains U.S. Army Veteran Reinaldo Gonzalez.

“Coming to a large medical center can be very overwhelming for Veterans like me,” said Gonzalez. “I come here almost every day for occupational and physical therapy but am in this wheelchair so, getting from point A to point B can be very challenging.”

Helping Veterans get to where they need to go is only one of the many responsibilities of a patient ambassador. According to Patient Ambassador, Llanel “Lala,” Newman, patient ambassadors assist with enhancing the overall patient’s experience when coming to the medical center.

“We aim to go beyond Veteran’s expectations when they walk through our door,” said Newman. “We work to serve as translators for some patients and answer questions about a number of facility or health care related issues. We even search for misplaced cars in the parking garage, she joked.”

As a U.S. Army Veteran herself, Newman says she loves connecting with patients. “It is so rewarding to bond with Veterans. They rely on us to be that person to help them, and I love helping people.”

Veterans Experience Officer, Dr. Amber Tierney explains that the Patient Ambassador program was initially created to provide individualized information and way finding assistance. However, it has transformed and become engrained in the Veteran centric culture. 

“The program started out as a way to solve immediate problems. Over time, it has become part of Orlando’s VAMC’s culture,” said Tierney. “Our patient ambassadors help foster strong relationships with Veterans. They remember their names, daily routines, and preferences for those like Reinaldo who come to us almost every day.”

Focusing on creating a culture of care, patient ambassadors work together as a cohesive team to provide high quality customer service and the best possible experience for Veterans.

According to Gonzalez, the patient ambassadors provide top notch service.

“They are very efficient and helpful, said Gonzalez. “They are courteous and respectful to whoever stops at the desk for help.”

Patient Ambassador and U.S. Air Force Veteran Chris Miller explains that it is his job to help Veterans with whatever it is that he or she needs.

“If patients are having issues getting to their appointments due to transportation issues, we can help link them up with a social worker to get them travel assistance. We can also offer them IPads that can help them receive virtual telehealth appointments,” said Miller. “Connecting patients with the right resources or to answer questions about any number of services available to them is the highlight of my job.”

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