3801 Coco Grove Avenue  
Miami, Florida 33133
March 2010


     FRG President's Message:  On December 8, 2009 the following representatives from the FRG, Terry King - President, Bill Stockslager -  Vice Present, Chuck Kays - Southeast District Director, and Mike Nagelberg - Assistant Director, took an 8 hour tour through the West Palm Beach VAMC Blind Rehabilitation Center (BRC).  Due to the length of the report, I am providing excerpts in this Newsletter.  The last official tour by the FRG occurred in 2002.  The primary objective of this tour was to gather information, talk to the BRC Acting Director and staff, look over the equipment that is located in the various training rooms, talk to the Blinded Veterans (BV's) presently taking training, and meet with the VAMC Director.  There was also a bonus incorporated into our tour, we were allowed to sit in on a Support Group Meeting for the BV's who were in training at the BRC, facilitated by Carolyn Bryson, BRC Social Worker.  We also had an hour meeting with Jackie Vanbomel, WPB VIST Coordinator     .  However, since the VIST is not directly a part of the BRC, I am not reporting on that meeting in this Newsletter.  The only comment this committee would like to make in regard to the VIST meeting, is that Jackie approved having the FRG President occasionally sit in on the VIST Support Group Meetings by conference call.  The reason for this conference call is for the FRG President to explain to the BV's in attendance that some of their previous practices are not in accordance with Support Groups around Florida.  The WPB VIST Support Group consists of only BV's that are located in the WPB VAMC catchment area.  The Group does not include BV's attending the BRC from other areas.  Currently, the WPB VIST Support Group will be meeting only quarterly. 


     Our tour started at 8 AM, with an open and frank discussion with Yvette Hill - BRC Acting Chief, Jacqueline Butler - Nurse Case Manager, Zaskia Diaz-Marrero - BRC Program Manager, Francine Giglio - Assistant to the VAMC Director, and Jackie Vanbomel - VIST Coordinator.  This discussion continued until approximately 10 AM.  During that meeting, we were informed that the BRC had a accreditation evaluation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) in November.  The site visit resulted in no deficiency recommendations and reported six areas of commendations.  Further, we were informed that there was an improvement in the operational efficiency of the BRC between FY 2008 and FY 2009.  There was an increase in the number of discharges from the BRC from 119 in FY 2008 to 142 in FY 2009.  There was a slight increase in the average daily census of the BRC from 10 in FY 2008 to 12 in FY 2009.  There was a decrease in waiting time from application to admission between Fy 2008 and Fy 2009.  The Regular Program waiting decreased from 37 days  in FY 2008 to 25 in Fy 2009.  The Computer Access Program waiting time decreased from 63 days in FY 2008 to 49 in FY 2009.  For the Dual Program the waiting time decreased from 44 days in FY 2008 to 29 in FY 2009.  There was a considerable increase for the GPS program waiting time due to national revision and distribution of GPS devices  from 52 days in 2008 to 76 days in FY 2009.  We were also informed that the BRC exit survey had been revised.  Now, the BRC is gathering information on the following 8 categories.  1. Nursing Care, 2. Medical services, 3. Food, 4. Activities, 5. Rehabilitation Services, 6. facility maintenance, 7. Program Function, and 8. Overall Satisfaction with the program.  The FY 2009 fourth quarter Satisfaction Survey revealed that 92 % of the BV's expressed overall satisfaction with their training at the BRC and 96% indicated that they would like to return to the BRC.  During the latter part of this discussion, we commented on the BRC Exit Survey, in some detail.  The Committee submitted a proposal requesting the BRC cooperate with the BVA-FRG to conduct our own Exit Survey after the BV had returned home from BRC training.  This proposal will be covered later in this report.  About 10 AM, we started our tour of the various training rooms, which gave us the opportunity to talk to some of the instructors and also some of the BV's in training.  A few of us offered recommendations to the instructors.  Since such comments was not our objective, we limited such comments.  The mobility instructors indicated that training was provided in locating landmarks, travel on sidewalks, travel on streets without sidewalks, travel on buses, how to go to a destination and return on your own, and visiting a mall.  Dave Kerchenfaut and Michael DeCastro Manual Skills instructors          gave a brief descriptions of the training offered to BV's trainees.  Each BV is given an  ambidextrous test   and every BV starts by making a loop belt.  Upon completion of the belt, the instructor would have a good idea of the BV's manual dexterity in each hand.  During that time, the BV has a good idea of what he/she wants to do and how much training they want in this area.  We also discussed the equipment in the wood shop with Dave Kerchenfaut and the extent of training the BV receives in woodshop safety, etc.  Carolina Bengolea, Living Skills Instructor, explained what was taught in the kitchen: how to mark an oven, microwave, prepare and use pre-cooked meals, marking foods, spices, canned goods, and storage and safety in the kitchen.  She also indicated that they use and teach the use of the Omni.  There is not much that can be said about the physical aspects of the BRC.  It appears to be neat, clean, and orderly.  The actual size of the BRC is 17,000 square feet.  We were told that the Nurse Manager Jacquie Butler was responsible for establishing a program where the BV patients receive and take their own medications.  Her staff does different thing to motivate independence i.e. Upon arrival, each BV is issued a talking blood pressure machine and recording sheet.  The BV is taught to use the machine and is responsible for taking his/her own blood pressure and pulse three times a day, recording them, and reporting it to the nurse.  Additionally, BV's are taught to use a Script Reader and given their medication box, from which they fill their own daily container for the week.  This is checked by the nurse.  It is the responsibility of each BV to administer and monitor their own medication.  A new program was instituted for the safety of the veteran, which provided a Nextel telephone when he/she leaves the floor, so that they can keep in contact with nursing staff who will know where they are at all times.  Our discussions continued until Charleen Szabo, VAMC Director arrived at the conference room.  After all of the pleasantries were exchanged, we continued with the discussion.  During the course of that conversation, we informed Director Szabo that it was our finding, based on what we had been told and seen, that it appeared that the staff was working together cooperatively and the morale seemed to be high.  At that time, we went on to lay out a plan for the FRG to independently conduct an exit survey after the BV had been home for several weeks.  The survey would be taken by one individual, an officer in the FRG, and would also be bound by ethical standards set forth by the National BVA.  Every BV that would be called would become a number only and no name would be known once the survey was completed.  We would not be passing back frivolous comments, but would be only passing back issues of a serious concern, stated by a number of BRC graduates.  The only participation required by the BRC, would be to obtain written permission from the BV indicating that he/she was willing to participate in the FRG survey,, along with his/her name, telephone number, and date the BV left the BRC.  Anyone desiring a complete copy of this report may call me at (941) 505-7747.  Terry King FRG  .               


      FRG AUXILIARY PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE: The FRG State Convention in Daytona is coming up soon.  Transportation is always a problem.  Some of you might not have heard what the FRG Southwest District has been doing to get more participants to the State Convention.  We started with the Walk-A-Thon in conjunction with White Cane Day in October.  The walkers received sponsorships from around town to raise funds to charter a bus to the FRG Convention.  Any money that is still needed will be shared by the riders of the bus.  This will be the third year of doing this.  All of you can do the same thing, even if you only receive enough for renting a van.  This enables people to take advantage of the Convention for fun and information without the necessity of their own car.  What do the yellow pages say, "let your fingers do the walking", well, "let the driver do the driving", not you.  Think about this very successful project and we can very easily double the people at the Convention.  I know that many of you would like to go but for some reason or another can't drive to the Convention.  Ask about renting or chartering a vehicle and sharing the cost among the passengers.  Sometime it will cost the same or less than having several cars drive to the Convention.  Hope to see you there.  Joanne King, FRG Auxiliary President.


     FRG State Convention Reminder:  This is a reminder that The FRG State Convention will be held at the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel , 640 North Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, FL 32118 April 30-May 2.  Your Convention Committee secured the low guaranteed group rates of only  $79 per day, for 1 to 4 persons per room.  In the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel, all rooms are equipped with refrigerators and microwaves and All rooms have ocean view balconies. These  low convention rates will be in effect 3 days before and/or 3 days after the Convention.  You may come early or stay late for an extended vacation.  The low Convention rates are guaranteed for reservations made on or before April 13th.  Reservations made after April 13th, will be at the low Convention rate but only on a space available basis.  We encourage you to make your reservations immediately to insure your accommodations as another group is at the hotel that weekend.  You may cancel your reservation and  receive a full refund of your deposit, if you cancel 24 hours before noon on the day you were scheduled to arrive.  Send your reservation to the Hotel along with your check for one night's room rate and 12.5% tax or you may use your credit card number to guarantee your reservation.  Other than your deposit,  the hotel will not accept checks for your remaining charges.  You must have a credit card or cash.  Better yet, as time is short, you should make your reservation by calling the toll free reservation number  at: (800) 874-7420.  There are 22 hotels using that reservation number. Be sure to specify the Plaza Ocean Club Hotel and that you want the guaranteed group rate for the Florida Regional Group BVA Convention.  If you have any problem , call George Stocking at (305) 446-8008.


     Convention Registration Fee:  The Convention Registration Fee will be $35 per person (for each BV, family member, or friend attending).  However, an early registration fee of only $30 per person will be in effect for registration received on or before April 13th.  The registration fee will cover general Convention activities, including the dinner-dance on Friday night, Hospitality Room, and the Banquet on Saturday night.  Please make your check payable to the BVA and send it to:  3801 Coco Grove Avenue, Miami, FL 33133.  Please include the first and last name of each person registering, so that we will be able to make name tags prior to the start of the Convention.  It will be helpful if you will send your registration fee in advance to speed up the registration at the Convention. 


     For those who get to Daytona Beach on Thursday, April 29, there will be a tour of the Talking book Library at 2 PM. That evening,  the BVA Hospitality Room will be open from 6 to 10 PM and will host a Pizza Party from 6-8.  If you plan to take part in either the TB Library tour or the Pizza Party add that information to your early registration information so that we can plan properly and have enough pizza.  AT 9 AM on Friday, the fourth annual horseshoe pitching contest will be held on the beach behind the hotel.  If you wish to participate call coordinators Bill Burgess at (386) 445-4987 or Paul Kaminsky (904) 291-0576.


     The Convention Late Registration Desk will open at 1 PM on Friday, April 30, in the hotel lobby.  If you have not pre-registered, you may pay your late Registration at that time.  If you have pre-registered, please pick up your name tags and Convention Program.  We need everyone to check in so that we can give the chef the proper count for the dinner dance and Banquet.  The opening session will be held in the second floor Ball room at 3 PM on Friday, May 2.  The Informational Seminar will be open with a presentation on Prosthetics and Sensory Aids for the Blind  by Dan Fields, Prosthetics Representative from the Bay Pines VAMC.  Then, Ron Lester, BVA Southeast Field Representative (FSP) from Atlanta will describe the BVA FSP Program.  The Dinner dance will begin with dinner at 7 PM followed by dancing.  Again, this year, Marsha Summers will provide the music, both during the dinner and for dancing afterwards.  A cash bar will be available for liquid refreshment.


     Saturday, May 1, The Annual Florida Regional Group Business Meeting will be held at 9 AM in the 2 floor Ball Room.  In addition to reports on the past year and planning the FRG Program for the coming year, you will have the opportunity to share your thoughts and comments on future FRG activities.  Elections for FRG Officers and District Directors, for the coming year, will be held.  According to the BVA guidelines and the FRG By laws, The election and instruction of a Delegate and Alternate Delegates to the 65 BVA National Convention  in August, will also be held.  Possible Amendments to the FRG By-Laws may be considered.  The FRG Auxiliary will also hold its Annual Meeting at 9 AM on Saturday in the Osprey Room. 


     At 2 PM on Saturday, the second Informational Seminar will be held,  starting with a presentation by Mike Gunde, Chief of the Bureau of Brail and Talking Book Services, will bring us up to date on Talking Book Program.  Michael Helper the new  VA Regional Office Liaison for the Florida VIST Program will provide information on veterans benefits.  David Johnson will demonstrate the Victor Stream Reader for use in down loading Talking Books.        


     The Hospitality Room will be open from 5 to 7 PM.  At 7 PM, the Installation Banquet will be held in the Ball Room.  Terry King, BVA President will be Master of Ceremonies.  The Banquet will close with the Installation of FRG Officers and District Directors and FRG Auxiliary Officers for the coming year.  Join us in the hospitality Room, after the Banquet for more socializing and refreshments.


     Remember to make your reservations at the Plaza Ocean Club in Daytona Beach and to send your registration fee to the BVA-FRG in Miami.  We look forward to meeting you in Daytona Beach.