As a five-year Army veteran, Shamara Young knows the value of taking care of service members. As a medical support assistant with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home program, she also knows the value of taking care of veterans.
The program, which began nationwide a decade ago, is in need of both veterans and caregivers.
An MFH, according to officials, is one in which an adult veteran is placed under the care and supervision of a caregiver. It is geared toward veterans who are unable to live independently because of functional, cognitive or psychosocial impairment. Such veterans typically have issues relating to dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, brain injuries and other maladies.
The Fayetteville VA Medical Center has placed veterans as young as 27 years old and as elderly as 94, said Dr. Adrienne O. Monroe, MFH coordinator.
The foster home program is currently looking for caregivers as well as veterans.
“We not only recruit for those veterans ... we also recruit for caregivers,” she said.
In addition to Monroe and Young, MFH the team also includes Magdalene Phillips-Fulks, who provides recreation therapy services to veterans. Because the MFH program falls under the jurisdiction of VA home-based primary care, dietician, social work, psychology, kinesiology therapy and other services are also provided, Monroe explained.
“We provide all their (veterans) medical care in the home, so they don’t have to come to the VA.”
For instance, services are provided to a Special Forces veteran who medically ended his career because of a spinal injury, she said. The Soldier had previously been placed in nursing home and felt out-of-place in a facility that accommodated older persons. In talking with MFH staff, he realized that a foster home was the ideal fit for him and has gone on to a more peaceful, happy disposition.
Three veterans who had been placed in MFHs ultimately died in those homes. But, that was not a bad thing — it means that they were happy in their last placement.
“We want this to be their final destination,” Monroe said.
Determination about the placement of a veteran is based on the veteran’s specific physical, social and emotional needs.
However, there are some criteria that must be met before a caregiver’s home can be designated as an MFH. That criteria includes, but is not limited to:
Own/rent their home as a primary resident
Be at least 21 years old
Care for no more than three residents
Complete VA MFH application and inspection process
Maintain a written crisis plan and respite plan
Receive ongoing training
Also, Family members who are interested in placing their loved one in an MFH can do federal and state background checks for safety oversight.
Among other requirements, caregivers should have formal or informal experience with patient care, be physically able to provide needed care and able to follow the veteran’s treatment plan.
An inspection team will visit the property to ensure that it is safe for veteran placement. Team members verify measures such as the proper wiring of fire alarms, the availability of a first aid kit and an adequate evacuation route, Young said.
Additionally, they ensure that caregivers maintain at least a three-day supply of water and food, which became especially important in the wake of Hurricane Matthew last year when some homes were without water and electricity for days. Also, medications should be stored behind a locked door to lessen the likelihood of patients who struggle with dementia obtaining access, said Monroe.
Staff also guarantees that the homes are an ergonomic fit for veterans. If, for instance, a veteran is bothered with arthritis, the home must contain toilets that are not too low and don’t complicate that person’s condition.
Toilets, hospital beds and other medical equipment can be supplied as needed, Young said.
Monroe and Young visit the home several times a month, and also make unannounced visits.
According to Young, inspections are renewed annually..
All bases are covered. A psychologist visits the home to offer advice to assuage caregivers stress. Staff also confirm that a caregiver has a relief caregiver in place so that the primary caregiver can take time away, if necessary.
Referrals for a veteran to be placed in an MFH are made through the VAMC, other hospitals and social workers. The referrals do not have to be from local facilities or medical professionals, explained Monroe. As long as the veteran is first enrolled in a VAMC, he or she can be placed from other cities and states.
Many people do not know that an MFH is a long term option for veterans. Routinely, when one thinks of foster homes, one thinks of children, but an MFH provides a home-like environment and is a viable option for those who have served.
“There’s a need for both veteran referrals and caregivers. We want the word to spread like wildfire,” Monroe said. “We have the capacity to serve more.”
Interested veterans or caregivers may call 488-2120, extension 7599 or toll-free at 800-771-6106, extension 7599.