Health Care Heroes: Veterans Canteen Service - Washington DC VA Medical Center
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Washington DC VA Medical Center

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Health Care Heroes: Veterans Canteen Service

Graphic illustration featuring the Veterans Canteen Service Team

Graphic illustration featuring the Veterans Canteen Service Team

Thursday, November 19, 2020

When the pandemic arrived in full force in March, the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s (DC VAMC) Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) made quick changes to the way they do business and serve their customers.

The DC VAMC’s VCS operates the Retail Store, Patriot Brew, and the Café which provides meals, snacks and necessary sundries as well as a welcomed brief “get-away” for staff and Veterans alike.  VCS also manages the vending machines throughout the medical center. 

According to Russ Zaiser the Veterans Canteen Service Chief, early in the pandemic, his team rose to the challenge of stricter sanitizing procedures, new processes, new menu items and enforcing physical distancing guidelines. They also rose to the challenges of re-configuring the retail store to better serve the needs of their customers, making safety a priority.

In March, when area grocery stores were low on supplies of meat, dairy, bread and toilet paper, the team turned the retail store into a mini market and offered customers a number of high-demand products including milk, bread and frozen meats. “We sold more than 100,000 roll of toilet paper,” Zaiser explained.

The 30-person VCS team managed to make their customers feel welcomed and safe while observing the new COVID-19 safety policies and procedures. “Our team has had to learn how to smile with their eyes. We are in the people business and it’s all about service excellence. Without being able to see our smiles, we have to make sure our body and facial expressions are always positive,” said Zaiser.

He says teamwork and flexibility have been the key to the team’s success during the era of COVID-19. Many team members have cross-trained to be able to cover the other areas within VCS. “We have pulled together to achieve our goals, and to cover shortages and maintain our high level of customer service.” Zaiser adds that the team has remained dedicated and has persevered in spite of its many challenges.

As the medical center staff continues its work through the pandemic, it is also continuing its journey to be a High Reliability Organization (HRO). Zaiser has an open-door policy and invites his team to come to him if they have any issues.  “Communication is key, sometimes we just need to vent and to be heard and to listen to each other.” The VCS team is moving forward through the pandemic, walking the HRO journey and upholding the principles. Thank you, VCS team for being health care heroes.


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