Sonya Randazzo, Preference Card Analyst and Chair of the Monument Health Military and Veterans Group, is passionate about showing veterans the respect that they deserve. It’s that passion, combined with a commitment to providing high-quality care, that motivated her to improve the experience of veterans during their stay at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital. She’s not alone in this — The Military and Veterans Group Board includes Trina Dunn, Applications Analyst who serves as Co-Chair, Jennifer Lewellen, PACS Analyst, is the Secretary of the group, and Michael Morford, Human Resources Business Partner is the group’s Communications Liaison.
Like Sonya, these folks each have the desire to help veterans when they come to Monument Health. “The vet’s group took off with a slow start,” Sonya said. “But once we got our board formed, we started to look for ways we could impact our community and patients.”
One of the first things they did was to get involved in Operation Patriot — a program created by the Volunteer Auxiliary — and get a veteran designation included in Epic. This created a way to identify veterans and military personnel when they were admitted to the hospital.
This provided an opportunity for Veteran Visits, where folks from the Military and Veterans Group or an approved veteran volunteer, could visit with veteran patients. They would present the patient with a certificate and pin, thanking them for their service, but more importantly, giving the patient an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a fellow veteran.
Some of these patients were the last remaining members of their family, and they were in the hospital alone, Sonya said. Veteran Visits gave them an opportunity to spend time with someone with whom they could share a connection. During COVID-19 restrictions, Operation Patriot had to be suspended, but it has recently returned to action.
That was only that start, however. After the group was presented a Hospice-bound veteran patient with a flag prior to his transfer, giving a final salute and sendoff. The veteran’s group felt they should do for more veteran patients in their final days.
That’s where the idea for Hero Walks started. “The question we kept coming back to was how can we honor the veterans and military personnel who spend their last days with us?” said Sonya.
To make the vision into reality, they needed the right flags for the job. Durable, reusable flags would need to be custom-made. They reached out to Vickie Boll at C&L sewing, who did an amazing job at manifesting their ideas into a beautiful, American flag cover made of vinyl.
When a veteran or military patient passes away, the hospital coordinator notifies security, activating the Hero Walk procedure that is currently being piloted at Rapid City Hospital.
Monument Health Military and Veterans Group members will line up, along with additional caregivers that are available. Military and veteran caregivers will salute the veteran patient and civilian caregivers will stand respectfully silent while “Taps” is played. When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, patients’ family members will be invited to accompany the walk when this is safe and appropriate.
“There are a lot of people involved, and we had to sort out the safest, most respectful way to do this that wouldn’t disrupt other patients or medical care,” Sonya said.
The Hero Walks are, of course, entirely optional. If a veteran prefers not to be recognized in this way, those wishes will always be respected. But when a patient opts to be included, everyone at Monument Health wants to ensure that they are treated with dignity and honor. “It’s incredibly important that we show these men and women the respect that they deserve,” said John Pierce, President of Rapid City Hospital and Market. “They made a sacrifice for our country, so it’s not only a responsibility – but also a privilege – to honor them properly. I think this is an excellent way to do that here at Rapid City Hospital.”
Hero Walks is officially operating in Rapid City Hospital. Vickie Boll, who created the first flag is also making similar flags for Hospice House, Custer Hospital, Lead-Deadwood Hospital, Spearfish Hospital and Sturgis Hospital. Once completed, Hero Walks can expand to those areas.
“We still have some logistics to figure out,” Sonya added, “but after the first test run, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, so we know that we can use this to honor the veterans and military personnel who wish to be remembered this way.”