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VA Central California Health Care System
Red Coat Ambassadors enhance Veteran experience
By Will McCullough
Thursday, June 14, 2018Fresno, Calif. — Patient transport, way finding and most importantly, a warm welcome are but a few ways volunteers give back to Veterans at VA Central California Health Care System. Volunteers have long been an essential staple at VA medical centers and are heavily relied upon each and every day.
The main goal of the volunteer program has always been "to enhance the Veteran experience, raise Veteran morale and promote physical, mental and spiritual health." That is, in fact, their mission statement.
Despite the success of the VA Volunteer program the VA has embarked on a new endeavor in 2018, the Red Coat Ambassador Program. This program was created to re-energize VA’s commitment to serve those who have served and will expand on the existing mantra of customer service and volunteerism here at VA CCHCS.
The Red Coat Ambassador Program aims to improve the overall Veteran experience by providing a strong positive first impression and promoting a culture of care-giving by personally assisting Veterans from the moment they arrive at the main entrance. The program is a national initiative that puts Veterans and their families at the center of everything, promoting consistency throughout VA medical centers.
"We do all we can to make this VA a sanctuary for our Veterans. Every Veteran should feel they are valued, respected, appreciated and celebrated from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave this facility — a world class welcome home and healthcare experience. We are a living tribute to our Veterans, and the Red Coat Ambassador program falls in line with our current Voluntary Service program, which includes forward greeters, shuttle drivers, escorts, transport service and multiple information desks." said Mary Golden, Voluntary Service Program Manager.
Growing evidence suggests a strong correlation between patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes, and Patient Experience is fast becoming a priority among healthcare organizations. The Red Coat Ambassador Program has proven to be one of the most successful improvements at even renowned healthcare facilities worldwide. Red Coat Ambassadors directly impact the environment of care at VA Medical Centers by giving Veterans a personal, positive experience when it matters most.
Building on brand consistency, the program is in direct response to the voice of the Veteran, creating a higher standard in VA experiences. The program offers to help Veteran patients with navigational wayfinding, general information and to provide an even more substantial role for Veteran service organizations to interact with Veteran patients, volunteers and employees. The program may also offer service recovery assistance prior to departure.
Based on a private sector model, the VA hopes to integrate the program across Veterans Health Administration by the end of the year. It will improve patient experiences as Red Coat Ambassadors are easily recognizable, help ensure safety, and have information readily available to help Veterans reach their scheduled appointments on time. This aids in easing patient anxiety. But greeting patients is only the beginning. Red Coat Ambassadors also assist with concierge services, patient escorts, orienting patients with clear directions, providing wheelchairs, and assisting in loading and unloading curb-side at the main entrance.
Red Coat Ambassadors are positioned at strategic locations at VA CCHCS and actively move to engage and interact with Veterans within their posted areas. Each Ambassador carry helpful information to assist Veterans and visitors — for example, the location of a specific clinic, special event or chapel services. They also have the location of major clinics, canteen, Patriot Store and other services.
"I’m a stroke survivor. I enjoy helping Veterans because I know what it’s like to have to rely on others for even the simplest of things," said Darlene Ford, longtime volunteer and appointed Red Coat Ambassador at VA CCHCS. "I spend anywhere between 8 to 12 hours per day with Veterans. They help me as much as I help them. The compassion I feel for Veterans helps me become a better person, daily." She also said she believes performing an act of kindness regularly will take one far in life.
Although any help is greatly appreciated, not just anyone can volunteer at the VA. Becoming a volunteer requires good interpersonal skills, effective communication, good ethical behavior, the capability to work in a team environment, and the understanding of the ins and outs of the facility. All volunteers also undergo a thorough background check before being cleared to work with Veterans. Red Coat Ambassadors are recruited from the most experienced existing information desk volunteers, our VAVS partners, Veterans Service Organizations and higher education students.
Senior leadership and VA CCHCS Executive Leadership are also encouraged to participate as "Ambassadors of the Day."
There are nearly 80,000 volunteers across the nation. But the VA can always use help from the community to successfully continue to care for the nation’s heroes. If anyone is looking for a way to give back, please consider becoming a VA Volunteer and help by serving Veterans. Please visit https://www.fresno.va.gov/giving/ to learn how to support a local VA facility and care for America’s Veterans.