The VHA Innovators Network (iNET) InnoVAtor of the Month for November is a recreational therapist at the Central Arkansas VA Healthcare System. Alyssa Welch is the creator of Engagement Solutions and multiple programs that support Veterans residing in Community Living Centers (CLC).
Welch’s journey into innovation began with the same thought as many innovators have: There has to be a better way. After seeing bed-ridden Veterans unable to engage and build relationships with other CLC residents, Welch developed Engagement Solutions with support from iNET’s Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program.
“I realized that my country can fly astronauts to a multination RV in space, but my bed-bound Veterans couldn’t participate in any group activities down the hall,” she said.
Engagement Solutions allows Veterans in CLCs to build and maintain relationships and a sense of community, even for bed-bound Veterans. This community works through an in-house broadcast network, which Welch programs based on Veterans’ interests. Through Engagement Solutions, immobile Veterans participate in events and activities that were previously inaccessible to them. This includes unit council meetings, bingo, movie nights, and other live events happening around the hospital. Veterans might not be able to physically attend in person otherwise.
After developing Engagement Solutions, Welch didn’t stop. She kept asking that same question: There has to be a better way. It led her to design other opportunities to keep Veterans active and engaged. An example is a woodturning program where Veterans make custom pens from a single block of wood. Word of her capacity as a maker spread throughout the Central Arkansas VA Healthcare System. She became the person people went to when they wanted to plan and ideate.
“Because my facility is a member of iNET, I am encouraged to think big, prototype models, test, and even fail in a safe place,” Welch said.
As always, the intention comes back to designing innovations to improve the lives of Veterans. During one wooden pen making session, a Veteran was completing his work with Welch. They waxed the pen and applied the hardware.
Then, the Veteran said, through tear-filled eyes, “I never thought I would ever be able to do anything useful with my hands again. Look what a beautiful pen I made.”
Welch’s woodturning program has now spread to nine other VA facilities across the country.
iNET’s mission is to weave innovation into the fabric of VA, and by sharing her time and experience, employees like Welch help iNET achieve that mission. It is because of employee innovators like Welch that Veterans continue to choose VA. iNET is proud to support employee-driven innovations. Follow the VHA Innovation Ecosystem on Facebook and Twitter each month, as a new employee innovator is showcased. Learn how iNET is creating an army of frontline VHA employee innovators.