IM VA hosts Midwest conference on ways to treat women veterans

SANDRA SCHUMACHER, CENTER, women veterans program manager at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wis., discusses pelvic pain during the Woman Veterans Healthcare Midwest Training Conference in Fornetti Hall at Bay College West on Wednesday. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Women veterans are the fastest-growing patient population for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

With that in mind, the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain is hosting about 65 VA registered nurses from nine Midwest states this week for a Woman Veterans Healthcare Midwest Training Conference in Fornetti Hall at Bay College West.

The conference covers such topics as pelvic exam and cervical cancer screening, interpersonal violence, breast health, contraception, abnormal vaginal bleeding and menopause.

Nurses from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan flew into Ford Airport on Monday, attended training sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and today and plan to fly out Friday afternoon with certification in veteran women’s health.

Barb Robinson, a registered nurse and women veterans program manager in Iron Mountain, said almost all of the veterans hospitals in the upper Midwest are participating in the three days of intensive training, which is taking place for the first time in this area. She was part of the original team that developed the curriculum for the training seminar.

They managed to secure a National VA Women’s Health Services Program grant for the program, she said.

“We decided to do it here, specifically, because we are rural. We wanted them to see how we are able to do things even in a rural community. We can manage, we make things work, and that’s what we are good at because we know how to treat our patients,” she said.

“What is so nice is everybody communicating their best practices,” she added. “We want the people who are doing a really great job in one area to share with the other facilities.”

Robinson said female veterans seek help for a number of musculoskeletal problems. Equipment they carry can weigh 110 to 130 pounds, and while men distribute their weight evenly across their body, but women tend to physically carry weight in their hip and pelvic region.

“We are seeing a lot of strains and stress in the lower lumbar region, the back region, and the pelvic region. With the special training, we know what areas to look at so we can better treat them,” Robinson said.

Female veterans also often have a need for specialized mental health services along with physical treatment, she said.

“We have a lot of female veterans that have been exposed to sexual trauma, which leads to a lot of problems because they are not as comfortable coming in for their pelvic exam. Privacy is a very big part of that making them feel comfortable. We want to know how we can work with those veterans to ensure that they are getting the preventative care and the services they need and that they are comfortable coming in,” she said.

Brenda Janovy is a registered nurse at the Fort Mead Medical Center in Sturgis, South Dakota, who said she hoped the training conference could help overcome some of the women’s health barriers.

“It’s a phenomenal program. I’m learning a lot as far as the VA perspective, and I’m impressed. We all have action plans we are bringing back from this on what we are going to improve in our general area. One of the things I think has been very helpful is meeting with other people with similarly sized systems and figuring how we can negotiate the rural care. Because we can’t get (the female patients) to come in as often because of distances,” she said.

Although Janovy has been an RN for 30 years, she has only worked at the veterans hospital since May.

“I’ve been very, very impressed with all of the services they have, with their focus on women’s health and how they are trying very hard to recognize the differences and make sure that just because they are a female veteran doesn’t mean they get different care than other females in the community,” she said.

Janovy said women’s health is becoming a priority, nationally and regionally, because of the increase in women in the VA system. “It’s a phenomenal program. A lot of the people here have been at the VA longer, but they have primarily taken care of men. This is much more than they need a pap smear every so many years. It’s focusing on the real differences, mentally and anatomically. The sexual trauma is a huge thing of it. A lot of women have been traumatized in the military and that is one of the sad things we are learning about. We have to learn to steer procedures around that trauma and help them get through it,” she said.