Visitation Cottages for Veterans - VA Bedford Healthcare System
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VA Bedford Healthcare System


Visitation Cottages for Veterans

Two men pose of a photo, one in a wheelchair

Bob Lennon, left, visits his friend, Veteran Norman Kitchell, in one of the newly renovated visitation cottages on the hospital grounds. The cottages have been designated a Best Practice by the Veterans Health Administration as a means for visits with Veterans in all weather. (Courtesy photo)

By Alex Gagnon, VA Bedford Voluntary Specialist, Technical Career Field Intern
Friday, October 9, 2020

From Smoke Shacks to Visitation Cottages, VA Bedford Staff and Community Think “Inside the Box” for Veterans, Families

BEDFORD, Mass. -- As Veterans Health Administration (VHA) staff around the country worked tirelessly to keep inpatient Veterans safe during COVID-19 precautions, finding ways for Veterans to see their families beyond video calls was a mission of the heart.

At VA Bedford Healthcare System, Engineering Service set up plexiglass barriers at doorways where patients inside could wheel up to see their family members outside, but hot weather, rain, and noise often made this less than ideal. When the idea emerged to convert two enclosed smoking area structures into visitation cottages, healthcare system leadership enthusiastically supported the idea. 

“The pandemic required visitors to VHA facilities be limited, but we needed to balance and encourage the need for critical interactions to support the wellbeing of Veteran patients”, Deputy Nurse Executive Kelley Saindon said. “We wanted to come up with an innovative approach that allowed our resident Veterans to engage with their loved ones face-to-face that adhered to physical distancing and minimized risk.” 

Locked up on the last day smoking was allowed on campus, the structures needed serious cleaning to be appropriate for their new mission. A local cleaning and restoration service donated the service of six professionals, three trucks, and eight hours of detailed cleaning to transform the shelters using specially formulated chemicals to break down the cigarette residue, transforming the shelters to like-new condition. 

Engineering Service fitted and installed plexiglass walls and added new systems for climate control in accordance with VHA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state guidelines. They installed intercoms so Veterans and families could easily hear each other. The community donated more than 120 plants and flowers to furnish the glass shelters with a cozy greenhouse atmosphere, eliminating any hint of their former use. 

“We examined every protocol to ensure this visitation option balanced patient and family welfare with infection control risks and priorities,” Saindon said. 

Families use an online visitation sign up tool created by VA Bedford Social Work to reserve a cottage for family visits and Nursing staff transport Veterans to the cottages for cherished time with family. The visitation cottages have been warmly welcomed by their users. One WWII Veteran remarked how lovely it was to see her family again in such a special place. 

A U.S. flag provides the finishing touch for each visitation, an idea contributed by Navy Veteran and Voluntary Specialist Kevin Dougherty. “I wanted the families to see their Veteran proudly sitting in front of our flag,” Dougherty said. “These Veterans have fought through other battles and they’ll fight through this one too!” 

Visit our public website at for more information about our care of Veterans and follow us on social media at and


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