Caring for the Lehigh Valley’s veterans with new LVHN MAVRIC program
Integrity. Trust. Honor.
The men and women who serve in our military exhibit these qualities. Now, Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) wants to do the same for them when it comes to their health care, their wellbeing, and their families.
The new Dick and Peggy Fleming Military and Veteran Resource/Information Center (MAVRIC) opens today at LVHN’s 17th & Chew Streets’ campus in west Allentown inside the former School of Nursing building on the first floor.
“There are an estimated 50,000 veterans in the Lehigh Valley region, which is approximately 7 percent of the population, with another 5,000 on active duty. Add in their spouses and children and we’re talking about a potential audience of 125,000 area residents,” said James Geiger, President of LVHN Muhlenberg and a retired Air Force veteran.
“A subset of our servicemen and women were exposed to traumatic experiences, and it is the kind of thing that followed them home and left a lasting physical and mental impact,” Geiger continued. “How they address it, how it affects their quality of life, how they care for themselves, how they interact with their peers because of it, and what their family understands are all important. They have unique backgrounds, with different beliefs and cultures.”
LVHN’s work with veterans has been growing for years, but a donation from the estate of Dick and Peggy Fleming, who wanted to care for veterans, combined with donations from the public, helped build momentum for launching a larger program in a dedicated space.
Veterans are entitled to care from the Veterans Administration (VA), yet the majority of vets get their health care outside the VA system. MAVRIC works in tandem with the VA and does not act as a replacement for it or its services. It helps vets navigate the complex health care environment and provide case management when needed.
“LVHN is a partner with the VA and it helped design the MAVRIC program. Our program’s close relationship with the VA augments their mission to get vets the health care assistance they need, and it helps us get answers to their medical and insurance questions in an efficient and timely manner,” explained Alexander Alex, Government Contracts Officer/Liaison and an accredited VA claims officer. “Our team can assist vets in obtaining their VA benefits, and also help with TRICARE insurance for uniformed service men and women. This relationship allows a continuum of care on a constant basis.”
“LVHN is always looking for better ways to serve the community and our patients, especially those with unique circumstances such as veterans,” explained Geiger. “This program will help us have a better understanding of the health care needs of veterans, and it will help care for their immediate family members too. We want it to be a patient-centered experience.”
The MAVRIC program itself does not provide any direct medical care or treatment to vets. A veteran who is determined to need immediate care can be transferred across the street to Lehigh Valley Hospital 17th & Chew Streets or to a doctor’s office or other appropriate medical facility.
Knowing that veterans will be more receptive to other veterans, the MAVRIC team leadership includes Eric Johnson, Network Veteran Health Officer and Senior Project Manager for Operations, a veteran of the Air Force, and Alex, a veteran of the Air Force, retired. LVHN Veteran Health Liaison Diane Yoder is a Gold Star Mother who has started a nonprofit organization in memory of her son called the Jarett Yoder Foundation.
“Some vets won’t talk about their experiences, but some are more inclined to open up and talk with a fellow veteran,” said Geiger. Other team members include a registered nurse, social worker and community health worker.
“When a veteran comes to MAVRIC for the first time we start by getting them registered in the system,” explained Yoder. “We take down all of their medical history and enter it into our database. Then they meet with a health care liaison that walks them through a medical intake form. We collect their military service history information as well as their mental and physical health records. Often we can predict what symptoms they might be experiencing based on what war they served in and the known health situations around those conflicts.”
“Vets that served in an active war zone might have been exposed to environmental hazards like burn pits, which can affect their health for years to come,” said Geiger. “What a veteran tells a health care provider about his or her service and experience during active duty can help to inform the type of treatment they might need.”
“We get a mixture of senior vets and younger vets in the program,” explained Yoder. “The older ones help the younger ones or take them under their wing, especially those who are returning from service and are looking for a military family that they can be a part of.”
MAVRIC provides what the staff refers to as “wrap-around services” including a weekly Thursday evening veterans’ support group. The One Fight Group is already well attended with all available seats filled in the large conference room in which it is held. “All are welcome at our weekly meetings. It’s a non-judgmental environment,” said Yoder. Veterans visit and talk over a hot meal. Family and spousal support groups will start in the near future, as well as a children’s support group.
Other wrap-around services include a food pantry to help with immediate hunger issues, and closets stocked with clothing essentials for job interviews. A family conference room allows parents to meet as a group with their health care liaison. A library stocked with free books on a variety of military subjects, including biographies and children’s books, is available to veterans and their families to take home and keep. A healing garden across the street offers a quiet space for reflection, while yoga classes provide relaxation and stress relief. Team-building exercises and external site visits have also been done.
For support services related to issues like food insecurity or homelessness and shelter, MAVRIC works with local nonprofit partners such as Victory House in Bethlehem, the Allentown Rescue Mission, and Hope For Veterans.
The new program also has the support of the nonprofit Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC), an organization of nearly 200 area veterans’ organizations. “LVMAC has been a wonderful community partner of LVHN and has provided invaluable input on the MAVRIC program. LVMAC is the one organization that all of the local health networks get together on because we support the work they do for veterans,” added Geiger. MAVRIC has also been receiving support from LVHN employees. “Our health network has over 200 veterans on its staff, so we are passionate about supporting this project.”
The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust would like to express its gratitude to all those who have served in the U.S. military and their family members for their commitment and sacrifices in making this the greatest country on Earth.