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Program houses disabled and elderly veterans with host families

Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center has pamphlets and other resources on the Medical Foster Home Program.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center has pamphlets and other resources on the Medical Foster Home Program.

Veterans in need of long-term care could live with host families and caregivers as part of a new program.

Instead of placing veterans – either elderly or disabled – into nursing homes, the Wilkes-Barre Veteran Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) is rolling out a program to house veterans with families.

Margaret Maurer, Wilkes-Barre VAMC’s Medical Foster Home Program coordinator, is piloting the project for NEPA and Central PA, which already has 490 homes and 750 veterans housed nationwide. She said the program gives veterans the small things they’d miss out on if they were housed in traditional long-term care facilities, like home-cooked meals.

“When you have maybe one or two other roommates that are residents, there’s more individualized care. And, studies have shown from other Medical Foster Home [programs] that it improves the quality of life when you’re one-on-one with someone in that family atmosphere,” said Maurer.

Kathleen Minora, Wilkes-Barre VAMC’s medical social work supervisor, added that many caregivers feel like their resident veterans become family.

“In [MFH] homes that are already established, the host or the host families have really developed quite a bond with the veteran or the veterans that they have in their home,” said Minora.

Besides creating a ‘found family’ for veterans, Maurer said medical foster homes can help the families of elderly or disabled veterans.

“When two [adult] family members work now because of economics…and maybe they have small children and are just not able to take in and care for an elderly relative…this gives them another option,” said Maurer.

Since she began advertising the program in NEPA and Central PA around three months ago, Maurer has heard back from eight interested veterans. However, no potential caregivers have reached out yet to start the selection process, said Maurer.

“It’s just like if you were becoming a foster home for a child. So, it’s the same regulations,” said Maurer.

Prospective caregivers have to meet criteria like owning or renting a home with space for one to three veterans, be financially stable, and be able to provide 24/7 care to residents. The veteran pays the caregiver for their living expenses.

A single person cannot provide around-the-clock care all the time, so MFH caregivers are required to have an additional caregiver as their backup, said Maurer.

“A Relief Care Worker would be someone that they identify from the very beginning that would maybe help out during the day, or maybe come in at night for a couple of hours,” said Maurer.

Maurer said it takes a community to serve our veterans as they deserve.

“What I met were these caregivers that were really open to taking care of a veteran. [This] one woman’s relief worker was her husband and her daughter. So, many keep it in the family. [Caregivers’] homes are situated where there’s a private room for the veteran and it’s adaptable to what they need, whether they need a stair glide or a ramp in the house,” said Maurer.

However, foster hosts and their families are not alone in figuring out how to serve their residents. Minora said homes and their veterans are matched with Home Based Primary Care services.

“Just as a family doctor years ago would make sick visits…out to the home…this nurse practitioner or provider would do wellness checks in the home,” said Minora. “The veteran would be assigned a registered nurse who would come out, check vital signs, prefill [medication] boxes, do any type of skilled nursing that the patient may need.”

Those primary care services require that foster homes operate within a certain radius of a VA Medical Center, said Maurer, so veterans and their caregivers can get ample support.

“Medical Foster Homes can be wherever within a range with the VAs. So, we’re at 60 miles around the Sayre clinic, 60 miles around the Williamsport clinic, 40 miles around Wilkes-Barre [clinic] and 40 miles around Allentown [clinic],” said Maurer.

Currently, that limits more rural areas in Pike or Wayne counties from participating in the program, although the VA is working to bring the program into those areas in the future, according to Maurer.

For more information on how to become a Medical Foster Home caregiver, reach out to your local VA Medical Center.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.