VA leaders have selected the Ralph H. Johnson VA in Charleston, South Carolina, as one of three National Community Partnership Challenge (CPC) winners for its efforts to coordinate follow-up care for Veterans being treated for mental health issues at community hospitals.

The Charleston VA’s Suicide Prevention team set up processes with six local community health hospital so that the team would be notified when a Veteran they treat receives inpatient care at those facilities.

Charleston VA Suicide Prevention team Challenge winners.

The team then worked to ensure that the Veteran had a scheduled mental health appointment within seven days of discharge, a robust safety plan and any medications they needed. The team said that coordinating this handoff prevents at-risk Veterans from falling through the cracks.

Ensure Veterans receive robust follow up care

“The period of weeks to months following discharge from a psychiatric hospital is a high-risk time for suicide attempts and death by suicide,” said Suicide Prevention Supervisor Dr. Jenifer Wray. “We aim to meet the Veterans where they are, such as [when they are] hospitalized in the community, and work with staff at community hospitals to ensure that Veterans receive the same robust follow up care that would be provided if the Veteran was hospitalized at VA.”

This Suicide Prevention team’s work fit the Challenge theme this year: “Adaptability in a Changing World.” Winning partnerships focused their work on helping diverse populations of Veterans, especially in times of uncertainty such as during the coronavirus pandemic.

Consistent with the theme of the challenge this year, this partnership demonstrates ‘going the extra mile’ to ensure that all Veterans are cared for and receive the services they need to recover and thrive during the high-risk period of time following hospital discharge.

Patients pleased to know community hospital working with VA

A member of the Suicide Prevention Team shared feedback from a representative of one of its partnering local health clinics: “Our staff feels that we have a solid ‘safety net’ in place with the patient when they’re admitted to our facility. Patients feel a sense of comfort knowing that we’re working in conjunction with VA to provide the best continuity of care during their acute stay.”

Wray said the team is “very proud to do this work” because improving care transitions helps Veterans at high risk for suicide. “We have robust relationships with seven area hospital systems and look forward to expanding this initiative to work more closely with staff at additional facilities.”

The National Community Partnership Challenge is an annual award recognizing outstanding partnerships that help Veterans and their communities. The competition is managed by VA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships, which facilitates partnerships advancing the health and well-being of Veterans.

By Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich is nurse executive for the VHA National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships

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Published on Oct. 16, 2021

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