By Lee Vorderer
Starting as a medical technologist in the Brockton VA, Christine Croteau quickly became an advocate for Veterans and rose to her present position through the Veterans Affairs system. She never anticipated this journey but now feels like she was born to be here in Bedford, directing the work of our VA hospital.
What was going to be just a job after college became a career for Croteau, who became permanent Director of the Edith Norse Rodgers Veterans Memorial Hospital in Bedford in August 2014 after a three year term as Interim Director.
Many of us think of the Bedford VA as a provider of long term care; more than 500 Veterans receive inpatient services at the hospital on any given day. But beyond these services, the Bedford VA serves about 20, 000 Veterans, both men and women, through its primary care and through its supportive mental health services, the largest such program in the country. With access to clinical services and wrap-around services in employment and education, Veterans identify the Bedford VA as the place to get help, at the Bedford campus as well as at satellite locations in Gloucester, Lynn, and Haverhill. The Bedford VA is the home of nationally-known exemplars in the areas of Vocational Services, Peer Services, Homeless Services and outpatient Mental Health service.
Croteau describes her clinical team as the key driver of improvements made at the hospital over the last four and half years. The alignment between clinical services and research has been a key priority for Croteau. With a research portfolio that has more than doubled in the past four years, the connection between research and direct service provision is strong. Regular meetings and problem solving allows
allows the focus of care and research to respond to identified and future needs of Veterans. This connection is expected, nurtured by changes in the ways staff perceive their jobs and fostered by regular meetings among research and clinical staff and the participation of research staff on standing hospital committees. This interconnectedness includes Veterans as well. Across the campus there are Veteran’s councils, both inpatient and outpatient, that routinely seek the views of Veterans who use both inpatient and outpatient Veterans to further foster improvements. At weekly improvement presentations, with 50-60 staff in attendance, new areas of success are highlighted and new areas for research attention are identified. The translation from research to practice is not remote at the Bedford VA; rather it happens every day, across the campus.
Bedford Green, the new 69-unit apartment residence under construction on the Bedford Campus, represents the culmination of a four and a half year journey that began with the question, “Is Bedford VA doing enough to end homelessness?”
Staff described the needs of elders, many Vietnam era Veterans without homes, without roots. At this same time, Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. announced its support for efforts to reduce homelessness in the Veteran population. With its extensive experience in a wide range of services, Bedford began to develop the outline of a residential opportunity for elderly Veterans, where clinical services would be on site, where a full range of other supports would be very near by, and where peers could play a strong role in the support available to Veterans. Bedford Green was born.
Being in Bedford is a plus for the program. Croteau’s enthusiastic endorsement of the research to practice connection has created a new relationship among the Hospital’s various components, and now she would love to realize her vision of a robust connection between Veterans and current Bedford residents. She hopes for some personal relationships to develop, where common interests could be the basis for authentic personal connections. Perhaps Veterans would enjoy being involved in a Bedford organization or club, or find transportation with someone from Bedford to an activity of mutual enjoyment. Opportunities could be created in which Veterans and citizens of Bedford could see directly how each adds to the rich fabric of community life.
The facility has begun accepting applications for Bedford Green, and in Spring, Bedford will welcome more than 60 new neighbors to the town.
At that time, the distance between the Town and the VA campus will not change, but perhaps the distance between some Bedford residents and some of the Veterans who live at Bedford Green will be very short.