Shortly after retiring from a 29-year career in the military, U.S. Air Force Veteran Jackie Murdock pulled into a congested parking lot of what was then known as the Dunedin, Fla. Community Based Outpatient Clinic*. She managed to find what seemed to be the last parking spot, shut off the engine and preceded through the clinic entrance.
Once inside, she quickly became engulfed by the sounds of the busy clinic. As she made her way to check-in for her first appointment, it became very apparent to her that she was the only female patient in the building.
“I remember walking into a very busy clinic and seeing a lot of men. In fact, I believe I was the only female patient in the building at that particular time,” she said laughing.
“For me personally, this was not a huge issue. I spent a long career in the military and felt the clinic environment mirrored the military.”
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the clinic, Murdock said one thing stood out to her most about her first experience with the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, and that was the warm reception she received as a new patient to the system.
“I knew that I wanted to receive my health care from VA, but I really did not know what to expect,” Murdock recalled.
“Obviously, at that time amenities for women and services were lacking, but the customer service and care I received on that first day were exceptional. Because of that, and the collegiality I enjoy being around other Veterans, I felt very comfortable and knew VA was the place for me.”
From her first VA health care experience 12 years ago to her engagement with the system today, Murdock said the VA healthcare system has totally transformed the way it delivers care to female Veterans. Along the way, she added, the customer service she experienced on her first day has also improved leaps and bounds.
“The physical amenities and services available to women Veterans – a total transformation,” she said. “And the staff, they are so proud to be able to deliver state-of-the-art care to meet the unique needs of women. That is very clear to me every time I come to an appointment and makes me feel very comfortable as a patient.”
Two small but significant examples Murdock used to highlight VA’s effort to transform women Veterans health care services and amenities was privacy curtains in exam rooms and baby changing stations in women’s and family restrooms. In 2004, these facility attributes were few and far between. Today, privacy curtains along with many other amenities and services are the standard at VA facilities across the nation.
According to retired U.S. Army Colonel and Bay Pines VAHCS Women Veterans Program Manager Julia Adams, providing the very best health care services to women Veterans is very much a priority of VA.
“Our healthcare system, along with other VA health care facilities across the country are very active in enhancing our care and services to women Veterans in order to provide them the high quality care they have earned and deserve,” she said.
Adams said that women Veterans represent one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population and women utilizing VA health care across the country has more than doubled over the last 15 years.
Nationally, in 2000, about 160,000 women Veterans used VA health care services. Today, that number is well over 415,000.
For the Bay Pines VAHCS, women actively using VA health care services has increased more than 13 percent over the last two years. In 2015 alone, Bay Pines served more than 9,000 women Veterans across southwest Florida.
To meet this growth, Adams said the healthcare system hired and trained doctors and other medical professionals to provide care specifically for women Veterans. These health care providers are available at all facilities of the Bay Pines VAHCS – C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines and the system’s eight community clinics located in Bradenton, Cape Coral, Naples, Palm Harbor, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Sebring.
In addition, Adams said the healthcare system operates two fully staffed Women’s Health Clinics – one at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center and one at the Lee County Healthcare Center located in Cape Coral.
“At all of our sites of care, women Veterans have access to a full complement of primary and specialty care services,” Adams said. “This includes the full spectrum of gender-specific primary and specialty care services.”
Specialty care services available to women Veterans include management and screening of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, glandular disorders, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia as well as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Specialty reproductive health care is also available to include maternity care, infertility evaluation and limited treatment; sexual problems, tubal ligation, urinary incontinence, and others.
Other services include cervical cancer screens, breast cancer screens, birth control, preconception counseling, HPV vaccine, and menopausal support. VA also provides confidential counseling and treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to Military Sexual Trauma at no cost to the Veteran.
“I am not sure the availability of our services is well known to many women exiting the military or even those who have been out of the service for many years. ” Adams said. “Today’s VA is very committed to women and it is important that we continue to reach out to women Veterans to let them know what we have to offer.”
For Murdock, she has experienced firsthand VA’s commitment to women Veterans and has benefitted from the expansion of services so much so that she now volunteers twice a week with the healthcare system’s Women Veterans Program.
“I think it is important for all women Veterans to know that health services in VA are on an equal footing with anything available on the outside,” she said.
“The care is comprehensive, complete and all inclusive. We may not have all the pink, fluffy upholstered furniture, but we have what matters.”
To learn more about women Veterans health care services available across the Bay Pines VAHCS, please visit www.baypines.va.gov/services/women/index.asp or call the Women Veterans Program Manager Julia Adams at 727-398-6661 extension 14312.
*Editor’s Note: The Dunedin CBOC relocated to Palm Harbor in 2009.