Military, civilian nurses learn, teach in unique DoD-VA collaboration
The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, located 40 miles north of Chicago, is a first-of-its-kind facility staffed with uniformed nurses from the Navy, and serves nearly 67,000 eligible beneficiaries. Navy Lt. Nathan Aranas (left) and Christine Barassi-Jackson (right) work side-by-side at the center. Aranas is an active duty Navy registered nurse and Barassi-Jackson works as a registered nurse with the Department of Veterans Affairs. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)
Aunique partnership between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs places military and VA nurses side-by-side in a facility where they can expand their own clinical skills and learn from each other. The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, located 40 miles north of Chicago, is a first-of-its-kind facility staffed with uniformed nurses from the Navy, and serves nearly 67,000 eligible beneficiaries.
“This organization has its roots in the military, but with several opportunities we might not see in the military [health] system, such as treating non-retiree veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as working with some civilian emergency medical services in the area,” said Navy Lt. Nathan Aranas, an active duty registered nurse and assistant nurse manager in the hospital’s emergency room. During his eight-year career, he has cared for patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in suburban Washington, D.C., a military hospital in Italy, and other locations around the world. His time at Lovell has been eye opening.
Along with serving multi-generational veterans at Lovell, the staff has a great working relationship with other civilian hospitals in the immediate area, said Aranas. “We learn from local trauma, mental health, and pediatrics and birthing centers, exposing me more to how medicine outside of the military is practiced,” he said. “It gives me a bigger perspective of how the rest of the country operates as a health care institution.”
At the same time, Aranas believes medicine is medicine. When former active duty patients see someone in uniform treating them, they speak more at ease with that nurse, because they understand the lingo. “I think my patients become a lot more empowered to care for themselves. They have a sense of security.”
Christine Barassi-Jackson is a VA civilian registered nurse working at the hospital for the last five years. She’s the nurse manager in the emergency room but never served in the military. Barassi-Jackson appreciates the discipline and attention to detail military members bring to her emergency room.
“Everybody has clearly defined rules and responsibilities and is expected to get the job done,” said Barassi-Jackson. Having a combined organization is a great balance that pulls out the best parts of both the Navy and VA, she said.
This federal health care center, established in 2010, is the first of its kind and treats active duty military, military retirees, family members, and veterans. A large portion of its patient population includes the nearly 40,000 Navy recruits who pass through Naval Station Great Lakes each year, plus veterans from throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.
Barassi-Jackson leans on Aranas to serve as an interpreter with some of the patients.
“Knowing more of the Navy culture helps break down walls with the patients and other providers,” she said.
Aranas said there are many places within the Military Health System where uniformed nurses can serve. His wife is also an active duty Navy nurse at the hospital, and they turned down more traditional assignments just to have the chance to practice medicine at this unique place.
“Clinically, we wanted to see more variety of patients, such as the aging veterans from World War II and Vietnam,” said Aranas. “It’s a great experience for young, active duty clinicians to have.”