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TVHS Geriatrics celebrates WWII centenarians

WWII Army Veteran Bennie Woolam sits next to his geriatrics health care team at the Nashville VA Medical Center.
WWII Army Veteran Bennie Woolam joined the Army in 1933 and served as a horse trainer.

This year has proven to be a challenge for many Americans, but for two Veterans at Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (TVHS), 2020 has a silver lining.

With a little help from the TVHS Geriatric Patient – Aligned Care Team (Geri-PACT), World War II Veterans Bennie Woolam and Morris Solnik reached 108 and 100 years of living.
Army Veteran Woolam turned 108 in January and Coast Guard Veteran Solnik turned 100 in July.

Geri-PACT provides comprehensive, coordinated and patient-centered care to senior Veterans struggling with severe health issues like dementia, diabetes and congestive heart failure. The program takes an aggressive approach to all facets of health care and brings in experts from multiple fields.

“The Veteran and their caregiver are set up with a large team of providers including: a dietitian, Whole Health coach, social worker, pharmacist, nurse practitioner, nurse care coordinator, and a geriatrician,” said Dr. James Powers, chief of geriatrics. “About 20 percent of our patients are put in the hospital each year, and 10 percent pass away. We do all we can to help maximize their health status to reach their goals of care and try to make their experience as patient-centered as possible.”

There are more than 800 Veterans enrolled in Geri-PACT at the Nashville campus, and each Veteran receives specialized care daily. Powers explained he and his team discuss upcoming patient appointments and each patients’ goals.

“We are very pro-active and focus heavily on outpatient care,” Powers said. “We consistently call Veterans and caregivers to make sure their needs are being met and if there’s anything that needs attention. Our goal is to keep the Veteran at home functioning at the highest capacity.”

The care the centenarians receive is no different than a 60-year-old Veteran.

“We ask each Veteran when they come in for an appointment, ‘What do you want to get out of this appointment?’” Powers said. “It really accomplishes a lot for the Veteran, their caregiver and ultimately it keeps them happy because it’s Veteran-centric.”

Solnik’s daughter Tania Solnik shared her experience with the Geri-PACT program.

“We are so pleased with the care my father gets,” Tania said. “They really do a wonderful job, and my father and I are so grateful. It was an honor having them celebrate my dad’s birthday.”

The Geri-PACT team drove to Solnik’s residence in Nashville to celebrate his 100 birthday on July 11.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Geri-PACT program has ramped up its response. Routine health care appointments were converted to virtual modalities through VA Video Connect or telephone. Geri-PACT nurses and providers contact high-risk Veterans and their caregivers to monitor overall health as well as potential COVID-19 symptoms. Veterans who have urgent and emergent needs like falls or shortness of breath were seen face-to-face the same day in the clinic to reduce any potential exposures from an emergency room.

“Our Veteran population has truly embraced telehealth with open arms,” Powers said. “They have been very vocal and satisfied with the care they continue to receive in a safe and timely manner.”

Powers has been with VA for 35 years and started the Geri-PACT program at TVHS in 2011. He was raised in Connecticut and comes from a military family. His father served in WWII and his grandfather served in WWI. Powers served as a Lieutenant and primary care provider in rural Tennessee with the National Health Service Commissioned Corps. Powers' experience with interdisciplinary rural health networks led to him creating the TVHS Geriatric Program. 

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