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VA Maryland Health Care System


New Residential Wellness Center

Focuses on Veterans, Not Their Illnesses

Photo of Dr. Carol Bowman and medical support assistant Joy Lucas.
Dr. Bowman discusses the Veteran whole health resource map with medical support assistant Joy Lucas.

Throughout her 22-year career in internal medicine, Dr. Carol Bowman has observed that many patients with complex medical and mental health needs require more time to get proper care than other patients.

"Due to time constraints, often the easiest thing for health care providers to do is to treat each symptom and diagnosis,” she said. "But this doesn’t address the whole, complex person. When Veterans are experiencing homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, legal issues and mental health issues, this can make treatment even more challenging."

So when Bowman joined the VA Maryland Health Care System in April 2015 and was given the opportunity to identify and implement ways to best address the complex needs of the residential mental health patients on the Perry Point VA Medical Center, she immediately began working toward the creation of a new Residential Wellness Center focused around a whole health approach to care. The new center opened in January 2016 in Building 19H.

"Having a physical space for our new wellness center has shown the Veterans that we care,” she added. "Both the whole health approach, and a place they can come to for care and support, are invaluable."

The whole health—or holistic—approach to care takes into account every aspect of a Veteran’s life that can affect their health and well-being. It also involves connecting and collaborating with all aspects of their care, including primary care, mental health, nursing, recreation therapy, and specialty care.

"This is a truly integrative approach to care,” Bowman, now lead physician at the Center, explained. "We ask Veterans, ‘What’s most important to you? What’s your goal?’ And then we work with them to achieve it."

Articulating what is most important to them isn’t often an easy task for Veterans. That’s where the "whole health resource map” comes in. It’s posted on the wall at the center and Veterans get a copy for their personal use. The visual tool helps them identify influences in their lives, and whether they positively or negatively impact their health. It’s something they can continue to use throughout life.

"Even as our Veteran patients are discharged from a residential unit and transition back to the community, they often stay connected with us,” she said.

While the overwhelmingly positive feedback from Veterans about the new center is rewarding, Bowman looks forward to the future when they plan to incorporate tools used by other VA medical facilities to evaluate the efficacy of a wellness approach for Veterans with complex high-risk medical and mental health needs. Bowman and her team hope this innovative treatment approach will be a model of care they can ultimately share with others.

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