Late Breaking News
Veteran Nurse Makes Sure VAMC Is Welcoming Facility for Women
WASHINGTON — During her 20-year career as a nurse working at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, L. Gale Bell, RN, has had any number of jobs, but she said none was more satisfying than her current position — Women Veterans Program manager and clinical coordinator.
Bell and her team are responsible for ensuring the DCVAMC is a comfortable, convenient facility where women can feel safe and secure receiving healthcare.
Bell trained as a nurse in Virginia at the Hampton Institute (now University), where she joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp, which prepared her for a life in the military. She spent five years between active-duty and reserve time, meeting her husband during a summer at Fort Bragg, NC.
As her husband’s career took him from post to post, Bell followed, taking nursing positions where she could. In 1988, she and her husband found themselves stationed in the nation’s capital, and Bell took a job as an emergency room nurse at the DVAMC. She remained there until her husband was sent back to Fort Bragg in 1990.
“I never thought I’d be coming back to the capital, but that’s what happened in 1992,” Bell said. “And out of all the things that I have done, the most rewarding one has been taking on the position of Women Veterans Program manager and clinic coordinator.”
A Place For Women At VA
L. Gale Bell, RN
In the mid-1990s, a memorandum came down from VA headquarters that there was to be a woman veterans’ coordinator at every facility. In many facilities, the response was a part-time position attached to an employee’s existing responsibilities.
“This facility embraced that as a full-time position,” Bell said. “That’s significant, because it only became a mandated full-time position in 2008.”
Bell took the position in 2003. Her role is to make sure VA is providing dignified, respectful and high-quality care to all eligible female veterans on par with their male colleagues. Most of this happens in DCVAMC’s Women’s Clinic. Created in 1995, the clinic is staffed by two comprehensive women’s healthcare providers, one nurse practitioner, one board-certified internist and a women’s health social worker.
When it was created, the clinic’s goal was to make sure that women had a place to go for gender-specific care. Today, the focus has changed to include comprehensive healthcare, with a single provider providing general healthcare, as well as specific women’s health services.
“This comes out of the national VA Women’s Health Care Group,” Bell said. “Their vision is that our gender-specific issues are our primary-care issues. They aren’t separate.”
Last month, the clinic held its 3rd annual Ladies Night, during which women veterans are invited to come and learn about the VA healthcare system, to socialize and to receive healthcare. “We hope to get veterans who have problems getting to the clinic during normal business hours,” Bell said.
As the number of women veterans grows, so must the Women Veterans Program. DCVAMC is scheduled to break ground on a new building in the next few months that will include 5,000 square feet to house a Women’s Pavilion, enough space for the clinic to expand with its patient population, which is at 12,000 enrolled female veterans.
“We’ve been very busy of late with the growing increase in our number of veterans, with the outreach initiatives and our rural-health initiatives,” Bell said. “We’re getting the word out to that untapped population.”
Slowly but surely, the mindset within VA is changing to embrace a paradigm where VA is a welcoming place for women veterans, Bell said.
Challenges still exist, however. Women do not always realize they are eligible for VA care, or consider VA a viable place to receive care. There are also child care issues that need to be addressed.
“There are some [pilot projects] in the area looking at child care,” Bell said. “I will never make that an issue that impedes them getting care. They need this, and however I can chop down a barrier to ensure they get that care, I will.”
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Bell said. “But at the same time, we’ve certainly come a long way. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
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