For a lot of Veterans, spiritual care is an important part of their total care and difficulties traveling to a VA Medical Center for pastoral and religious providers frequently become a problem. VA has come up with a solution – telechaplaincy.
Clinical Videoconferencing Telehealth (CVT) technology allows the VA chaplain to minister spiritual and pastoral care to the Veteran from a remote location. This involves the Veteran traveling to a Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and using the telehealth equipment to speak with a chaplain. However, for some Veterans, travel to a CBOC still was not feasible or convenient. The VA Maine Health Care System went one step further and now Veterans can receive spiritual care from their homes using CVT tablets.
The VA Maine HCS consists of a VA Medical Center in Augusta, along with eight CBOCs and three outreach clinics, but there are still Veterans outside the areas where the VA facilities are located. Concerned about these Veterans, facility telehealth coordinator Tiffiny Rooney, chief chaplain James Luoma, along with OEF/OIF/OND program manager Joleen Lilley sought to establish resources to provide spiritual care, among others.
This tablet-based CVT technology allows Veterans to connect with a chaplain from almost anywhere. The tablets are easy to use and are provided by VA. The tablet works like a cell phone; it receives an incoming call from your provider during your scheduled appointment time.
“The tablets make it about the Veteran. It doesn’t get any more patient-centered than to bring care to the Veterans in their home, “says Rooney, a registered nurse.
Another key feature of the tablet is the ability to add Bluetooth accessories like stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and scales to monitor weight. The tablet also allows you to access My HealtheVet and connect with your health care team using secure messaging.
The Chaplain Service at the VA Maine HCS pioneered the use of the CVT tablet for stand-alone spiritual care in remote areas to step up and address the challenges and needs of Veterans, as many traumas are accompanied by spiritual injuries.
“A Veteran in the far north of Maine, who previously built his life around the church and his faith, suffered with posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Following his return from Iraq, his wounds prevented him from resuming the life he had known previously,” Luoma explained. The loss of spiritual care was devastating to him and worsened his injuries. With this new technology, VA chaplains can reach Veterans and provide them with the quality care they need.
At the VA Maine HCS, all chaplains are assigned to units in addition to maintaining their own caseload of Veteran clients using the CVT tablets. The Chaplain Service currently collaborates with the OEF/OIF/OND Program, Mental Health Intensive Case Management, Home Based Hospice Palliative Care Program, Veterans Justice Outreach and other services in developing tablet applications.
One Veteran, who connects with a chaplain weekly, is particularly enthusiastic about the CVT tablets. “The ease and instant access to professionals is a breath of fresh air. Knowing that in a single moment, without the travel, someone is there for me is a relief beyond words.”
Through CVT technology, the VA Maine HCS has increased the access to spiritual care for Veterans and is leading the way to increased collaboration of delivery of holistic care to Veterans in remote rural areas of Maine.
Andre Parker is a writer/intern with the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA Maine Health Care System chaplain James Luoma contributed the information in this article.