On November 29th, students from Psi Chi at MSP attended an outreach event at the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospital in Ann Arbor. The Veterans Health Administration is led by the United States Department of Veterans and implements the medical assistance program for military veterans.
Kat Lewitzke (PsyD 4), Rachel Rodorigo (PsyD 3), Deb Hamilton (PsyD 3), and Maureen McGlinn (PsyD 3) were all in attendance. The outreach duties involved interacting with an elderly population by helping to host a game night. Additional responsibilities entailed assisting with the game set up, arranging the tables and chairs, supplying bingo sheets and stamps, and distributing snacks. The patients were all from the geriatric population, ages 70 and older. Some were suffering from illnesses, like cancer, whereas others were undergoing surgeries. A majority of them were in wheelchairs, so some students were asked to assist when it came time to play the game; such as stamping their Bingo game sheet. Others were asked to call out the plays and pass out prizes.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has executed a 16 initiative plan to be met by 2015 in hopes to better serve the many needs of veterans and their families. Goals are aimed toward the enhancement of veteran experience, access to healthcare, improvement of veteran’s mental health, and elimination veteran homelessness. Some VA hospitals, such as the VA of Ann Arbor, have begun to implement a model known as Planetree, an international health care setting that focuses on a patient-centered philosophy. The name comes from the sycamore, otherwise known as plane tree, that Greek physician Hippocrates supposedly sat under when he taught medicine. Planetree provides a firsthand experience that tailors attention around a patient’s cultural needs. Services, like dietary customs, are modified in accordance to the patient’s culture so that the long term stays can be comfortable and adaptable.
In addition, the organization integrates massage therapy, and decorative art covers the walls. The Planetree model also puts into effect volunteer work into their organization. Volunteers are known for bringing in baked goods or leading leisure activities. Most of the patients that students interacted with during this outreach experience were staying long-term. Incorporating a program like Planetree is a multi-systemic approach that meets the patient’s needs on a medical level, as well as socially and ethnically.
This outreach at the VA Hospital provided an inspiring experience. Students were able to interact with elderly individuals in an environment filled with various devoted military involvement. Participating in outreach service is important for our own growth as mental health practitioners. By providing social support for others and engaging in pro-social acts, positive affect and moral integrity within us can increase. Offering our services was a wonderful way to return gratitude to military service members, and further expanded our awareness of social justice and multiculturalism.
Katherine Lewitzke, PsyD 4