In the rise of COVID-19, most are practicing social distancing in order to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. Many would agree that COVID-19, without a doubt, has impacted our lives, but it has especially impacted the lives of hospitalized veterans. Due to social distancing guidelines, veteran patients are in need more than ever. Some may value a simple conversation while others need help avoiding eviction from their homes.
The Red Cross has assisted hospitalized veterans for many years, traditionally in military hospitals and Veterans’ Affairs facilities. With the partnership of Lee Health, The American Red Cross became the first organization to launch the Veteran’s Visitation Program located at Cape Coral Hospital in Cape Coral, Fla. on October 8, 2019.
This program has volunteers dually trained by both Lee Health and The Red Cross. These volunteers visit veterans’ hospital rooms to provide guidance on the resources and programs accessible to them. But most importantly, the volunteers provide the veterans with a smile, kind words thanking them for their service, and a listening ear. Because of the rapid spread of COVID-19 and guidelines put in place, the Veteran’s Visitation Program was put on hold.
In the span of two weeks, with the program on hold while the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the month of April, the question of “What can we do to help the hospital?” was asked by Tony Nazzaro, the American Red Cross lead volunteer of the Virtual Veteran’s Visitation Program. His coworker followed with another question, “Have you had any contact with anybody in the hospital, is there anything we can do for them virtually?” From there Tony and his team began to work together to accommodate the new normal, while also giving back to the nation’s heroes.
Before COVID-19, all Lee Health hospitals were expected to expand the Veteran Visitation Program which had over 60 veteran patients, but because of the pandemic, the program’s expectation to expand was also put on pause. However, the virtual program is active in one Cape Coral hospital with the hope of expanding in the future.
Each veteran has the assistance of the Red Cross once they are admitted to the hospital and even after their release. If at the time they don’t need assistance, information is provided to the veteran that includes phone numbers and resources, just in case they do need assistance at any time. Support from the Red Cross is extremely important, but especially during a pandemic when many feel uneasy. Tony and his team call at least eight veterans twice per day to check in on them and ensure they know they are supported by the Red Cross.
Recently, a veteran who had suffered from COVID-19 laid in the hospital and her biggest worry was her lawn. She said, “I’ve been here for two weeks, and I haven’t been able to cut my grass and I’m afraid my homeowner will get upset.” The volunteer who spoke with her explained her situation to Tony. The two of them were able to work with a veteran organization where they provided the hospitalized veteran with a weekly schedule to maintain her lawn while she recovered.
The Virtual Veteran’s Visitation Program volunteers provide the veterans with a human connection, through their conversations, that many are longing for during these times of quarantine and social distancing. Their kind words have the power to change lives, comfort those in need, and lend a helping hand.
“Unfortunately, so much bad has come out of COVID-19, that I feel that we had to come up with something good, and this is a good thing that has come out of COVID-19.” said Tony. This virtual program is an example of an extraordinary team effort of many calls, conversations, and listening to those who served our nation. Tony quotes, “Every veteran needs to know what is available to them before it is too late, like when veterans reached eviction, or lost their car, or don’t have food. The sooner veterans can speak to someone, the sooner they can get help. They served this country and it’s our turn to serve them.”
Any veteran or member of the armed forces in need of assistance please call 877-272-7337 or download the American Red Cross Hero Care App. To become a volunteer with the American Red Cross visit: redcross.org/SFLVolunteer.
Written by Maria Arango