As of September 2014, Minnesota’s veteran population was nearly 370,000. Almost three-quarters of those veterans were active during wartime and, as a result of recent foreign conflicts, many men and women return home struggling with mental health issues. Regions Hospital in Saint Paul has made it a priority to both serve veterans and meet the demand for treating mental illness in the community.
In 2012, Regions Hospital opened a new inpatient mental health facility with 100 private rooms in an environment designed to help mental health patients heal, including veterans.
“From the day we opened, these beds have been full. This facility reflects our commitment to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness and the importance of mental health to our community,” said Chris Boese, RN, BS, NE-BC, vice president of patient care services.
In June 2014, Regions Hospital launched the Lee and Penny Anderson HeroCare program. A HeroCare advocate was hired to meet with each veteran who was brought to the mental health facility. Partnering with the Veterans Administration and the U.S. military, the advocate works with veterans experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness and other issues.
“The rules have changed over the years,” said HeroCare advocate Christine Dawson. “Many veterans don’t realize there are benefits that they have earned, that they are entitled to.
”Within a few months of launch, the demand was much larger than expected. HeroCare was prepared to assist 60 veterans in its first year, but final numbers were nearly triple the estimate. Dawson also found that the need expanded beyond just mental health.
“In 2015, we are on pace to help 135 veterans experiencing mental illness and an additional 285 veterans across the hospital,” Dawson said. “Knowing that our team is making a difference for those who have served their country is an honor and a privilege.”
With the additional workload, HeroCare has expanded to include an additional advocate and a peer specialist. On Veterans Day, this team greeted veterans with a cupcake and a “Challenge Coin,” which echoes the military tradition of handing out medallions for specific achievements.