A few weeks ago, a Veteran in an intensive care unit in Gainesville, Florida, used an iPad to see his son, who was serving abroad, to tell him he loved him. The Veteran passed away the next day.

“The video call is what linked these two in a meaningful interaction that could not have happened otherwise,” said Justin Maynard, staff chaplain at the Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran.

Lisa Huang, mobile health specialist

“That’s the sort of sacred space created with the iPads and VA Video Connect.”

Maynard works as a chaplain in the VAMC’s ICU and mental health unit. He provides spiritual care and opportunities for Veterans to say goodbye to their loved ones. With the Veteran’s permission, he offers prayers or other words of comfort and sometimes sings and plays hymns on his guitar.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many Veterans in ICUs couldn’t see their family members face-to-face. This was because of no-visitor policies and other restrictions based on age, health conditions, or travel.

Vital portals for Veterans to see loved ones

Maynard and five other chaplains in the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System bridged that gap. They received iPads through the VA Mobile Health Provider Program in collaboration with Apple.

“Since COVID-19, the iPads have become vital portals through which patients can safely see loved ones face-to-face,” Maynard said.

Lisa Huang is a supervisory librarian and mobile health specialist for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System. Known at her facility as the “iPads lady,” Huang has tapped into the VA Mobile Health Provider Program to secure iPads for the chaplains in her system.

She came up with the idea after reading about the emergency department at the Overton Brooks VAMC in Shreveport, Louisiana. The department was limiting traditional contact between emergency room providers and Veterans who might have COVID-19 by providing them with iPads to communicate.

VA Video Connect enables staff and patients

In recent years, Veterans have increasingly turned to VA Video Connect, VA’s videoconferencing app, over traditional in-person visits. The iPads’ portability enables staff to communicate in the hospital and Veterans to connect with their loved ones remotely through VA Video Connect.

Justin Maynard, staff chaplain

Many chaplains have been working on the front lines at VA medical centers during the pandemic. A lot of the Veterans in the ICU have COVID-19. The chaplains must practice physical distancing and sanitize iPads between uses to continue their work.

“The health care teams look to the chaplains to establish video connections. They set the tone for the visit while the nurses provide medical care,” Maynard said.

The chaplains have also used the iPads to conduct honor ceremonies for Veterans who have died. The chaplain will play taps, say a prayer and invite the Veteran’s loved ones to speak about the Veteran. The Veteran is often draped with an American flag.

“By establishing video connections for family members to attend the ceremony remotely, the iPads have helped us break down the barrier created by a pandemic that prevents us from physically being with others,” said Maynard. “They allow people to feel present.”

An honor to facilitate many intimate moments

Since he received his iPad, Maynard has facilitated many intimate moments through video connections. These include a Veteran getting to watch his family sing “Happy Birthday” to his son, a Veteran’s spouse seeing her husband of 59 years after he tested positive for COVID-19, and an 80-year-old Veteran saying a final goodbye to his twin.

“It has been an honor to witness people finding meaningful connections when this pandemic is isolating people,” Maynard said. “The iPads have been a vital tool to establish a safe interaction between a Veteran and their family so that the Veteran can take part in not only healing but also doing what matters most in their life — interacting with their loved ones.

“This allows us to manifest the presence of their family in the Veteran’s room in a sacred, meaningful way,” Maynard added.

Huang said she hopes that other VA sites will look into securing iPads for chaplains and other VA staff, working with ICUs to enhance communications and reduce COVID-19 infections.

For more information, check out the VA Mobile Health Provider Program page on the VA Mobile website.

Treva Lutes is the communications lead for the Office of Connected Care.

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Published on Feb. 4, 2021

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