The Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System, one of the winners of the 2021 VHA National Community Partnership Challenge (CPC), recently received the Drive to Zero Suicide Award for its partnership with six community hospitals addressing suicide prevention.

Partnerships like this one helped improve care coordination and addressed the risk for suicidal behaviors and deaths by suicide. Public private partnerships such as the winning entry have influenced the care and access available for Veterans in the community.

“We’ve been able to work with our community to provide great care,” said Ralph H. Johnson VA Director and CEO Scott Isaacks. “We also share the message that we are a team. Veterans could come to VA and get incredible care they’ve earned and need to take advantage of.”

Isaacks shared that the best part is knowing the difference they make in Veterans’ lives as the only 5-star medical facility in the state of South Carolina for patient satisfaction, designated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Collaboration between VA and Grand Strand has been phenomenal.”

“I think the best recognition for our staff is understanding those awards are not about a piece of paper or some little plaque that goes on the wall,” he added. “It’s about Veterans. It’s about real people who have been touched. People whose lives have been saved because of the work that has gone into getting that award.”

Adapting to the needs of Veterans is a focus area for Isaacks and VAHCS. In 2020, the facility staff started looking more closely at the processes and procedures in place for suicide prevention. It looked at how those relate to their community partners.

Coordinators provided training on safety plans for Veterans

The Suicide Prevention Coordinators began working directly with community hospitals to help enhance the overall care for Veterans. The coordinators provided training on how to complete a safety plan that is consistent with what VA uses. They improved the discharge and follow-up process for Veterans, and shared resources and contact information for VA services.

“This initiative is about ensuring no Veteran falls between the cracks when they’re hospitalized within VA or outside of our care,” said Dr. Jen Wray, supervisor of the Ralph H. Johnson Suicide Prevention team.

At Grand Strand Behavioral Health, one of the community hospitals VAHCS partnered with, Social Worker Seth Blackwell said the collaboration between VA and Grand Strand has been phenomenal since its inception.

“Patients feel a sense of comfort knowing we’re working in conjunction with VA to provide the best continuity of care during their acute stay,” Blackwell said. “Most importantly, there is continuous communication and care coordination with VA for all patients 24/7. This is truly a great partnership that assures the patient is at the center of all we collectively do.”

Read more about Charleston VA.

CPC is managed by the VHA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP), which focuses on the well-being and care of Veterans and their families.

For more information on HAP and CPC, please visit: and click on the “2021 VHA National Community Partnership Challenge” tab.

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

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Published on Jan. 9, 2022

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