Milwaukee VA Medical Center, Milwaukee, 2022 Community Benefits

Milwaukee VA Medical Center, Milwaukee

Milwaukee VA social worker Ann Baggett talks with Lt. A.J. Ottow of the Mobile Integrated Healthcare program with the West Allis Fire Department.
An innovative partnership between the Milwaukee VA Medical Center and a neighboring municipal fire department reaped big dividends in 2021—and likely saved the life of a veteran. The Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH) program, established in 2020, involves the Milwaukee VA Emergency Department and the West Allis Fire Department.

“This is a first-in-the-nation relationship between VA and fire departments,” said Ben Thelen, nurse manager for the Milwaukee VA Emergency Department.

The program targets veterans who make numerous trips to the emergency department and seeks ways for them to better manage their health. It starts with specially trained paramedics who make house calls to designated veterans. These aren’t emergency lights-and-sirens calls; instead, the paramedics are working proactively. They talk with the veterans about medications, check their surroundings and make sure they are in contact with the right resources.

In April 2021 the program saved an elderly veteran who was living in squalor and being preyed upon by neighbors and crooks. Lt. A.J. Ottow of the West Allis MIH team checked on the veteran and found “absolutely atrocious” living conditions. Ottow learned the veteran’s meals were being stolen and a woman was scamming him out of cash. Ottow contacted county authorities and got the veteran to the Milwaukee VA, where he was admitted to the hospital. Plans were started to get him into an assisted living facility.

Since the MIH was established, the partnership has shown big dividends: Thelen said unnecessary emergency department visits have been reduced by 50%.