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Home Telehealth Heart Failure Monitoring Program

South Texas VA has a strong workforce throughout its sites of care… care with heart. And its nursing service shines like a star, truly showcasing employees’ dedication to serving its Veterans and providing the best care possible.

One story showcases that the care provided is not just at one of its 15 locations but also in rural communities. While living in a rural community has many pros and cons, the Home Telehealth Program at South Texas continuously works to ensure there is no lack in health care provided to Veterans residing in those areas.

This was a valuable experience for William Dale Robinson, Navy Veteran who resides in Del Rio. He became a patient of the Home Telehealth Heart Failure Monitoring Program in March and soon understood to listen to his health care team when they became concerned with his elevated blood pressure.

Nurse Tabitha Higgins, care coordinator for the program, would call Robinson several times a week for check-ins, which quickly became requests for Robinson to seek emergency care due to his elevated blood pressure. 

“Her dedication makes her a five-star angel.”

“I told him he was very important to me and I was afraid he could have a heart attack while he was alone. I asked him to please call 911 or go to the emergency room if he has any more chest pain or chest pressure. This time he promised he would,” Higgins said.

Left to right: Dr. Lisa Mendez, deputy associate director for Patient Care Services, Tabitha Higgins, care coordinator for Home Telehealth Program, Carryl Vasquez, Home Based Primary Care RN, Kimberly Oakman, senior nurse advisor and James Powell, advanced medical support assistant.

One day after that call, Robinson contacted Higgins to inform her he was being admitted to the Val Verde Hospital in Del Rio after experiencing strong chest pain and a systolic blood pressure of 232. He also thanked Higgins for helping him feel comfortable with calling 911 in his time of need.

“The fact that I was going to have to spend several days in the hospital, I was not looking forward to that, but it was necessary and the surgery was a lot more serious than I had anticipated. Higgins’ attention to detail and her dedication makes her a five-star angel and I just love her for it,” Robinson said.

Once Higgins knew that Robinson wished to be transferred to Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio, she began working with his care team to advocate for his transfer. With the assistance of Carryl Vasquez, Robinson’s Home Based Primary Care nurse and James Powell, an advanced medical support assistant based in Del Rio, they were able to secure a transfer that would allow Robinson to be in a true place of comfort for any Veteran.

Claudio Solorzano, program director for the Home Telehealth Program, recognized the team’s dedication and resilience in ensuring that not only did Robinson receive the best care possible but that his comfort was prioritized in this situation.

“Failure was not an option.”

“Failure was not an option, and the team worked diligently together to assist the Veteran with his request. It would have been easier to ignore and say it is not possible, but the team did the hard work and accomplished the mission,” Solorzano said.

Because of their efforts, Robinson was moved to Audie L. Murphy VA within a day, where Higgins began visiting Robinson whenever she could. “I wanted him to see a face behind all those calls. I also knew he was several hours away from home and could be scared and feeling alone. He was very glad I stopped by to visit with him. He said he used to feel alone but he no longer does,” she said.

Robinson underwent carotid surgery and remained an inpatient for three weeks. He reflects fondly on his visits from Higgins. These visits surprised him at first but emphasized the dedication and integrity Higgins has for the Veterans in the Home Telehealth Program.

“The people at the hospital were very good. They treated me with honor and respect, and I felt like a king in there,” he said.

In an effort to truly highlight this experience and the coordination amongst South Texas staff, Solorzano nominated Higgins, Vasquez and Powell for a Good Catch Award from the Office of Patient Safety.

“At South Texas VA, we have a culture of safety, high reliability, excellence and service to others. We just don’t simply do a job. We have a mission and we accomplish the mission knowing that in our team, no Veteran is left behind,” Solorzano said.

Higgins says she values building relationships with South Texas Veterans to ensure they feel that they are able to trust in the people that are involved in their health care.

Robinson is back home, looking forward to his next home visit and working with VA staff who are dedicated to his health. He also encourages other Veterans to focus on their health and work with their primary care provider.

“Pay attention to what your care provider tells you and follow their instructions. They’ve got your best interest at heart. That was a harsh lesson for me to learn,” he added.

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