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Charles George VA Medical Center - Asheville, NC
Medical Foster Home Program
By Scott Pittillo Rural Health Public Affairs Officer
Thursday, April 21, 2011A home is central to most people’s lives. It’s where they go to rest and get away from things. It is also where many of their happiest memories occur. Many people spend their whole lives paying for and perfecting the place where they hang their hat at the end of the day.
However, when health begins to fail and people are no longer able to take care of themselves they often have to make some hard choices. People who do not have anyone who is able or willing to take care of them in their home often end up moving into a managed (?) care facility because it is the only choice they have.
Army Veteran Philip Dahlgren has struggled with disability for most of his life but when he recently developed a heart condition and underwent surgery he was told that he would not be able to go back to independent living. He then moved into the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, N.C. While Dahlgren was content with the care he was receiving at the CLC he wished that he had more of the freedom and feeling he had had when he was living on his own.
Not long after moving into the CLC Phil heard about the Medical Foster Home program and met Susan McKinnish the MFHP coordinator. Susan told Phil how the program matches disabled Veterans with non-family caregivers who share their homes to provide on-going care. At first he was skeptical but he decided to give it some thought and he agreed to meet with some possible families. Last fall Phil met Thomas and Christine Stephens for the first time at the CLC. Thomas is a retired postal worker and Christine is a retired special education teacher. They live near Hayesville, N.C.
“The first time we met Phil we sat on a balcony at the CLC and talked to Phil for a couple of hours,” said Thomas about the first time he met Phil. “We really fit like an old shoe. We both love to read and we both love to play pool we just had a lot in common.”
After the meeting Phil and the Stephens decided to go ahead and have Phil move in to their home. The Stephens home is a little unusual. Hayesville is one of North Carolina’s more remote towns to begin with and their home is near the top of a mountain outside of town making it even more remote. Natural beauty abounds, hardwood trees surround the home and visits by local wildlife are not unusual. To take advantage of the scenery and a view of a mountain lake the Stephens built a round house that offers 180 degree views.
“I loved it; I couldn’t get over the natural beauty of the area,” said Phil about his first impressions of his new home.”The Stephens treated me like one of the family, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Qualifying to provide care under the Medical Foster Home Program is an in-depth process. Host families and their homes have to meet strict standards to be able to qualify to provide care for a Veteran. The process includes FBI background checks and their home has to meet the same safety standards as a medical facility.
“A VA safety inspector actually inspects every home,” said Susan about the process. “They are looking for things like ceiling height, door and hallway width and all kinds of things that could possibly pose a safety hazard. The process makes sure homes are safe but it also limits the number of homes that can qualify.”
Knowing how hard it can be for a family to qualify makes Susan a little nervous when a Veteran first moves into a home. “I just want it to work, for the Veteran and for the family,” said Susan. “I really do care deeply about each and every Veteran and I want them to be happy and well cared for.”
Phil and the Stephens say the program meets their needs perfectly. Phil often enjoys matches of pool with Thomas and trips to explore the local area. More importantly he says he enjoys the social interaction he gets from being part of a family and they say they enjoy having Phil in their home the same way.
Susan monitors the care given to each Veteran and frequently visits homes to make sure standards are being met and that the Veteran is happy with the care they are receiving. So far the main problem has been finding homes and families that qualify. The need for foster homes has not been matched by the number of homes that qualify. Susan is actively seeking families who are interested in the program.
Anyone interested in becoming a VA MFHP family, or any Veterans who need care and would like to know more about the program in Western North Carolina may contact Susan at (828) 298-7911 extension 5834.