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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Help is Just a Phone Call Away

March 4, 2008

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VA Network Telecare Center: (713) 794-8985
or toll-free 1 (800) 639-5137

"Hello! Thank you for calling the VA Network Telecare Center in Houston.
How may we assist you?”

HOUSTON - The first voice a veteran hears when he or she calls the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is often that of a Telecare employee.  Now six years old, the Telecare Center is committed to providing exceptional medical and health care advice to veterans on the telephone. 

Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, registered nurses with specialized training are ready to answer health care questions, provide medical and emotional support plus symptom analysis, instruct on first aid procedures, perform consultations, help with stress and anxiety, explain laboratory and test results, and educate patients about specific diseases. Program support clerks in the Telecare Center assist with general information, scheduling and checking appointments, and transferring calls to specialists. In addition, a Telecare pharmacist helps with medication concerns during busy peak periods.

As part of MEDVAMC’s on-going efforts to provide veterans with timely health care information, a call to the Telecare Center might help a veteran avoid a long emergency room wait or eliminate an unnecessary clinic appointment. However, the Telecare Center is not for life-threatening emergencies. If you have a life-threatening emergency, immediately call 911.

The VA Network Telecare Center was awarded Health Call Center Accreditation from URAC, a Washington, D.C.-based health care accrediting organization that establishes quality standards for the health care industry. All telephone calls are answered by a staff of professionals who are experienced in telephone assessment of medical situations and crisis intervention. To help veterans who call, nurses use their training and experience as well as many other readily available computerized resources.

Last year, the Telecare Center received more than 541,000 calls; a large percentage falling into the mental health category. The MEDVAMC has developed and expanded several programs to provide mental health crisis response, screening, counseling, and early treatment to meet the needs of our nation's newest veterans — the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (OIF).

Combat veterans are at higher risk for psychiatric problems than military personnel serving in noncombat locations, and more frequent and more intense combat is associated with higher risk. Many of the challenges facing these service members are stressors that have been identified and studied in veterans of previous wars. In response, VA has developed world class expertise in treating mental health problems and responding to crisis situations.

Professionals at the Telecare Center are ready to address a variety of mental health concerns such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, homelessness, and thoughts of suicide. Depending on the situation, Telecare staff may direct a veteran to visit the Psychiatric Evaluation and Admissions Clinic (PEAC) clinic or the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program on a walk-in basis, or coordinate a mental health clinic appointment for him or her. Appointments are never scheduled more than 14 days away.

For veterans dealing with a mental health crisis, Telecare nurses provide emergency counseling assistance, and may call an ambulance to the patient’s home or ask the local police to conduct a welfare check. As the situation warrants, a patient may be transported to the MEDVAMC or a local emergency room. The Telecare staff then coordinates the veteran’s care with specialists in the MEDVAMC Mental Health Care Line.

Partnering with other VA health care facilities in the South Central VA Health Care Network, the Telecare Center in Houston also provides after-hours services for veterans across the Gulf Coast Region. In fact, a sophisticated computer system allows Telecare staff to triage veterans calling from anywhere in the world. All a veteran needs is his or her name, Social Security Number, and the VA medical center he or she usually visits. This means that veterans from southeast Texas have immediate access to health care advice and support no matter where they are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Remember, help is just a telephone call away. Call the VA Network Telecare Center at (713) 794-8985, (713) 791-1414 ext. 2458, or toll-free 1 (800) 639-5137. 

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