Home / Health / Dallas VA GERI-VET program reunited 90-year-old Veteran with spouse
Dallas VA GERI-VET program reunited 90-year-old Veteran with spouse
It didn’t take long for a new program to make an impact in the emergency department at the Dallas VA Medical Center. The program is the Geriatric Emergency Room Innovations for Veterans program, also known as GERI-VET.
Through the implementation of the GERI-VET program, emergency department staff can focus on its elderly patients 65 and older who may have additional physical, psychological and societal necessities when emergency care is needed.
The program encompasses care providers across disciplines including intermediate care technicians (ICT), nurses, providers, pharmacists, social workers and rehabilitation experts to provide comprehensive care, prevention and follow though.
Army Veteran Donald Greenhaw receives information from VA Social Worker Erica Sutton.
“We had an elderly Veteran in the emergency department with a deep laceration in his arm,” said Taylor Bennett, intermediate care technician. “He was screened by one of our emergency department nurses and a GERI-VET consult was needed.”
Bennett, a former Navy corpsman, is part of an initiative by VA to hire military-trained medics and corpsmen called the intermediate care technician program.
Army Veteran, 90, served in WW II
The patient, 90-year-old Army Veteran Donald Greenhaw, served from 1949 to 1952, including an 18-month tour of duty in France.
“He was sharp as a tack,” Bennett said. “He told me his life story, from deploying overseas, to coming home, meeting his wife, and marrying her in February of 1953. And he talked about his kids, grandkids and everything in between.”
While screening a patient, an ICT will check for common geriatric issues, such as falls, maltreatment, delirium, caregiver burdens, prescriptions refills, and medications.
In addition to GERI-VET, an ICT, in combination with social workers, can also help Veterans, their families and caregivers. Together, they set up in-home and community-based resources following an emergency department visit.
“I asked him about the fall and asked him how he got to us,” Bennett said. “He said he drove himself and that it was just an accident. He said he needed to get patched up because he wanted to get back to his wife.”
Reunited with wife of 68 years
A few weeks prior to his emergency department visit, Greenhaw made the decision to place his wife, Margaret, in an assisted living facility.
“He got really emotional,” Bennett said. “He told me that it was unbearable, being away from his wife of 68 years, that he yearned to be with her.”
It was at that moment that Bennett had an idea.
“I called our emergency department social worker and described his situation to her,” Bennett said. “I asked her if there was something, anything, we could do to help him.”
On the other end of the line was Erica Sutton, a recently hired emergency department social worker.
Sutton joined VA because her father and grandfather are Veterans. This is how she gives back to the Veteran population.
“I met with Mr. Greenhaw and asked him some questions,” Sutton said. “I learned that he lived alone and had limited outside support and resources. He realized he might benefit from also living at an assisted living facility.”
Overcome with joy
Sutton called the assisted living facility where his wife was living and explained his unique situation.
“Within a couple of hours, we were able to get him placed in the same room, within the same assisted living facility, as his wife,” said Sutton. “When we told him that, he was overcome with joy.”
Sutton explained that disruptions of normalcy, especially among the geriatric population, can create great amounts of stress and have negative impacts on health and overall quality of life.
Sadly, on June 17, 2021, just a few weeks after the Greenhaws reunited, Margaret died. Donald was by her side.
“I am grateful he got to spend that time with her,” said Randy Greenhaw, his son. “I am thankful that it was possible to bring them together.”
By Jesus Flores is a public affairs specialist with VA North Texas Health Care System.