For those who have had birthdays recently or will soon – they serve as stark reminders that times have changed. In the era of social distancing, phone and video calls must fill the void normally full of cake, song, and parties.

Despite the limitations, the Philadelphia VA Medical Center is hoping to bring some birthday joy to Veterans enrolled in their healthcare system. Using a list of almost 6,000 Veterans aged from 22-102–with a birthday between March 1 and June 1–VA employees are calling Veterans to wish them a happy birthday, while also checking on their care and comfort.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Anna Maria Lugrine received one of these calls on her 97th birthday.

Anna answered, “Hello, I don’t even know when my birthday is anymore” and laughed. The VA employee and Anna had a long conversation about her service, her work selling U.S. bonds during World War II, and her 8 children and 19 grandchildren.

Anna thanked the caller for listening and for wishing her a happy birthday.

“Offering virtual hugs where needed and checking-in on how they are doing, gives us the opportunity to talk about how we understand at this time they may not be able to celebrate,” said Bridget Briscella, Philadelphia VA Medical Center Patient Advocate.

The challenges of providing exceptional health care also affects VA employees.

Philadelphia VA Medical Center

Philadelphia VAMC staff are welcomed to their shift.

Recognizing this, the Philadelphia VA Medical Center surprised their employees with a “Salute to Staff” warm welcome as they arrived at work. VA leaders waved flags, rang cowbells, and held encouraging signs as they thanked each employee starting their shift. The hospital handed out stress balls shaped like a heart and the words “I Know You Care.”


These examples of patient experience (PX) innovations are not unique to the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Driven by VHA employees across the country, VA Patient Experience is a national program to improve the way in which VA provides the care, benefits and services to Veterans.

Jennifer Purdy, VA’s Executive Director of Patient Experience shared, “The employee experience and the Veteran experience are intertwined. We can’t improve the patient experience without also recognizing the need for a positive employee experience. We’re honored to share the inspiring initiatives being implemented by VA.”

The VA Veterans Experience Office Patient Experience Program highlights and packages best PX practices into tool kits that are then adopted by other VA medical centers. For example, Veterans told VA that sprawling VA hospital complexes were difficult to navigate, so the VA PX program helped the adoption of Red Coat Ambassador programs nationwide.

The VA Patient Experience program also assists VA Medical Centers host PX Week activities. Patient Experience Week (April 27th through May 1st) is an annual opportunity for healthcare systems to celebrate employee efforts and innovations designed to improve the patient experiences.

This year’s PX week is especially relevant and has perfect timing as VA’s 170 Medical Centers are eager to build additional virtual experience capabilities.

What one VA hospital started last week may very well be seen at each VA medical center nationwide next year.

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Published on Apr. 29, 2020

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  1. Richard T. (Dick) Prinzing May 7, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    For years (I’m almost 80) I have sung happy birthday to family members and friends. I give each birthday celebrant (even tho sometimes their sad) three choices. They are the Lone Ranger, Military, or Traditional version. (I came from a very musical family, past and present.)

    I would be glad to call my fellow veterans and sing to them. It would be easy to call them on my cell phone.
    Because of my age, I don’t know much about sending a video over the internet. (If there is someone in northern Illinois that could help me with electronics, I would appreciate it.)

    Dick Prinzing U.S.A.F. Medic 1960 – 1965 (Lackland AFB Texas, Gunter AFB, Alabama, Sidi Slimane AB, Morocco and Vandenberg AFB, California) Send your telephone number and Date of Birth. I’ll call and sing to you.

  2. Mike May 3, 2020 at 6:23 am

    This is heart-warming, such a kind gesture.

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