Paul Russo, RD, FACHE
Paul Russo has seen a lot of changes in veterans' care over the last 30 years — including a shift from hospitalizations and inpatient care to a system focused on broader health care, mental health needs and overall well-being, in addition to access for veterans at various sites throughout the community.
"We're focused on getting to people earlier and getting them to work on their eating habits," says Russo, director of the Miami VA Healthcare System. "We're doing personal health care planning with our veterans, and we want them to be more actively involved in deciding what they want. We want those good habits to last a lifetime."
Another big change — and one in which veterans' care is a leader — is an increased use of telehealth tactics integrated into patient-centered care practices.
Telehealth programs have been in place for about 12 years, says Russo, and their expansion is a priority for the VA system because of the convenience they offer an aging veterans population. Examples range from the "tele-buddy system" of simple phone calls to check in on patients to more complex uses of technology, such as the Health Buddy monitoring systems that transmit vital signs from veterans' homes to hospital-based practitioners.
The technology is also used to offer video nutrition education classes at community clinics and for electronic correspondence using secure messaging via the My Healthy Vet program. Once registered for secure messaging, the veteran can initiate correspondence with a team of providers and receive timely feedback to questions and concerns.
The communication exchange is documented in the patient's electronic medical record. Russo began his VA dietetics career at the VA medical center in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1982, and has worked in eight VA medical centers. Although at the time he was just happy to get a job right out of school, he says he chose to stay on this career path for two reasons. The first was pragmatic: "As I worked for the VA, I better understood the tremendous opportunity for career growth there."
The other reason is more personal: "Veterans are America's true heroes and I've really enjoyed interacting with them," says Russo. "It has been an honor and a privilege to work for the VA."