Giving our heroes the best: Unique program brings specialized care to veterans at Regions Hospital
The Lee and Penny Anderson HeroCare for Veterans program originally served mental health patients, but now reaches across the entire hospital due to demand
Maya Angelou once said, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” I love those words. They make me think of everyone at Regions Hospital and the work we’re doing.
The commitment Regions has to our veterans is something that’s particularly special. As a veteran myself, I know how tough it can be to understand the benefits, programs and services available in our community. And navigating the health care system is hard, too. That is why Regions created the Lee and Penny Anderson HeroCare for Veterans Program.
We started out helping veterans who were being treated for mental illnesses. But quickly, we realized the need extended far beyond those being treated for post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression. On any given day, Regions Hospital might be caring for as many as 40 veterans. Now, thanks to the HeroCare program, we can quickly find those patients. And through it, we can help connect these veterans with services and benefits each and every day.
We’re also able to give veterans the recognition they deserve. A big part of HeroCare is about saying thank you to our veterans. It’s about paying respect, honoring them and the country they served.
Veterans have dedicated their lives to serving the United States of America. It’s our responsibility to give them the resources they need when they need it.
Helping veterans like Earl
One of the more memorable patients our team has helped is a World War II veteran who was in Minnesota to compete in the 2015 Senior Olympic Games.
Earl Blassingame was throwing the shot put when he tripped. He fell on his side, injuring his shoulder and fracturing his hip. The Texas native faced a long road to recovery.
Earl’s insurance covered his medical bills. But HeroCare was able to help cover lodging costs for his family. Within a few weeks, Earl was up and walking again. And he was able to go home for the rest of his rehab.
The first step is to identify people like Earl. Our team has created a system across HealthPartners as a whole that identifies veterans when they first enter a clinic or any part of the hospital – like the Birth Center. Then, the next step is to ask questions. It’s our job to learn more about the veteran and how we can best help them.
Why HeroCare got started
John Kuzma, MD, is our Inpatient Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Regions. He is also a military veteran. And he and our Director of Inpatient Mental Health Services, Wendy Waddell, saw that veteran patients needed help navigating the resources and support they had earned. That’s how the idea for HeroCare was born.
I’m a Licensed Graduate Social Worker. And in 2014, I signed on as the first HeroCare advocate. We planned to help 60 people in the first year. Yet we ended up helping 270 veterans, military members and their families.
If you do the math, that’s more than 4 times what we thought. So, we expanded our team. An occupational therapist and one more HeroCare advocate have joined me. And we now work closely with colleagues who lead the broader social work that’s done at Regions.
We also have great partnerships in the community. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is one. The Eagle’s Healing Nest, which helps heal the unseen wounds that come from war, is another. And we have many others, too.
HeroCare provides veterans the best, military-informed care
Our team works with hospital staff to make sure veterans receive specialized treatment during their time at Regions. We’re also there to provide crisis intervention, counseling and psychotherapy to veterans experiencing mental illnesses.
The goal is for these people to be able to stabilize their lives and thrive. That’s why we also help them and their families navigate the unique resources that are out there for veterans. And it’s why we provide education in areas like health services, employment, housing and stress management.
Some days we are calling government agencies to help a patient order discharge papers. On other days, we might be working with a family to make sure that a veteran who has died gets a proper burial. These things make a difference in the lives of the veterans and families we serve at Regions. And none of the work would be possible without all of our generous donors, including Lee and Penny Anderson.
HeroCare has been honored with awards and recognition. It’s become a model for hospitals that want to support military members and their families. But the real work being done every day is what matters most. I’m talking about the connections that are made. And I’m talking about the conversations that are had. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I help people. I help veterans and their families. And I don’t think a better job exists.
Other ways HealthPartners supports veterans
- Regions Hospital has also been named a Yellow Ribbon Company by the Minnesota National Guard. Regions is the second hospital in the state to receive that honor.
- Park Nicollet and HealthPartners launched the Henry B. Melrose Veterans Honor Program. Part of our hospice program, it supports veterans with end-of-life decisions and care.
About Christine Dawson, LICSW
Christine Dawson is a licensed graduate social worker, and an advocate on the Lee and Penny Anderson HeroCare for Veterans Program team at Regions Hospital. Christine is a veteran herself, and served in the Marine Corps for 17 years and in the Army National Guard for 13 years. She retired from the military in 2013 and completed her Master of Social Work at Augsburg University the same year. She has worked at Regions since the HeroCare program began in 2014. In her free time, Christine can be found spending time with her husband and family. She has seven children and five grandchildren (Maliki, Amiyah, Elijah, Kiayah and Daxon). Her favorite place to be is at the lake, where she loves to fish and boat with her kids and grandkids.