An event Friday at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center celebrated the creation of a new program designed to improve the patient experience for military veterans.

MercyOne’s Military and Veterans Health program provides special training to staffers to help them meet the needs of and communicate with patients who are veterans.

Before the program was implemented, patients were never asked if they were veterans, said Christina Schauer, director of clinical and professional development. She said many veterans utilize private hospitals to receive medical care.

“Military experience was not asked about,” Schauer said. “We felt it was important to recognize veterans so we could better treat them.”

All patients who come to MercyOne facilities in Dubuque and Dyersville now will be asked whether they are veterans or are family members of veterans. A series of follow-up questions will help determine when and where they served.

Schauer said just knowing if a veteran has served in Iraq or Vietnam can help reveal what chemicals or materials to which they might have been exposed. That information then can be used to help diagnose certain conditions.

“Where they served can show unique symptoms,” Schauer said. “Having that information allows us to better serve them.”

Additionally, workers now are trained to better communicate with veterans who may have experienced trauma while serving.

Through the program, veterans will be asked if they would like to wear bands indicating their service. Schauer said the bands are intended to give other staff, patients and visitors the opportunity to thank veterans.

Kay Takes, president of MercyOne’s Eastern Iowa region, said she believes the program will help the hospital better serve its veteran population.

“Veterans have a special place in my heart and in the hearts of all of us at MercyOne,” she said. “It is our issue, our obligation and our privilege to help meet this need and to become a lifetime partner with our veterans and military service personnel.”

The program launched Oct. 1. Schauer said about 600 veterans and family members of veterans already have been served since then.

U.S. Army veteran Tori Kilburg and her husband, Jeremy Kilburg, a U.S. Air Force veteran, recently gave birth to their first child at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center.

“A lot of veterans have gone through unique experiences, so it’s important that there are (hospital) staff that are aware of that,” Tori Kilburg said. “We’re glad that they are working to understand our needs.”

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