Earl Mark served his country in the Army during the 1970s. But, the years have been an unbeatable foe and the veteran could no longer serve himself.
Now, a Veterans Administration program has given him a refuge. It is a home-based option for local veterans who are no longer able to live on their own but don’t want to while away their days in an institution.
Since February, the first Veterans Administration Medical Foster Home has been open in Great Bend. These are private homes where a trained caregiver provides services to a few individuals.
“I wasn’t ready to sit around with a roommate and vegetate,” the easy-going Mark said, relaxing at the kitchen table. He was living in a nursing home in Clay Center and found out about the opening in Great Bend.
He moved into his new digs two weeks ago. “I decided this was the best thing for me. It was an excellent choice as far as I’m concerned.”
“This is such a wonderful alternative to nursing home care,” said Jennifer Hoard, Hutchinson-based VA MFH coordinator. It may be a good fit for veterans who require nursing home care but prefer a more intimate setting with fewer residents.
The comfortable, tidy Great Bend home is owned by Diana Smith and, as of now, Mark is the only resident. But there is room for another.
“This was a good opportunity to help our military,” Smith said. She responded to an advertisement placed by the VA in the Great Bend Tribune, seeking homes in the area.
“I’ve been care-giving since I was 19 years old,” she said. “That’s all I know.”
So, the MFH program was an ideal match for her.
A two-way street
Medical Foster Homes have a trained caregiver on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Hoard said. This caregiver can help the veteran carry out activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed.
Meals are also provided and there may be other social activities possible.
The VA ensures that the caregiver is at least 21 years old and is well trained to provide basic health and VA planned care. There is an application process and the agency inspects and approves all Medical Foster Homes.
While living in a Medical Foster Home, veterans also receive home-based primary care services.
The vets are not the only ones who benefit from the program. So do the caregivers.
Smith said there is the peace of mind knowing the are helping meet the needs of a veteran. And, there is the interaction with their charge.
“It’s a great experience,” she said.
Medical Foster Homes are not provided or paid for by VA. To be eligible for a Medical Foster Home one needs to be enrolled in home-based primary care, and a home needs to be available. A VA social worker or case manager can help with eligibility guidelines.
A veteran has to pay for the Medical Foster Home themselves or through other insurance. The charge for a Medical Foster Home is about $1,500 to $3,000 each month based on income and the level of needed. The specific cost is agreed upon ahead of time by the vet and the caregiver.
Caregivers are considered self employed (with close VA oversight), Hoard said. They have to work out the details with their accountants.
Vets are urged to talk with a VA social worker/case manager to find out if they are entitled to additional VA benefits that will help pay for the program.
An idea on the rise
The program started in 1999 in Little Rock, Ark. A home was established in Wichita in 2010, where there are 13 homes, and in Hutchinson and Salina in 2013.
Since the program’s inception, nearly 3,000 vets have lived in foster homes. Currently, there are 897 vets residing in 645 homes spread across 43 states.
“It just continues to grow across the nation,” Hoard said.
Now, they are hoping this can expand locally, said Larry Buczinski with the American Legion Post 180 in Great Bend. “We are looking for more homes. If we could have two or three more, it would be great.”
Veterans or potential caregivers interested in the program can contact Hoard at 888-878-6881 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.