W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center - Salisbury, NC
Program provides Veterans comforts of home
Like many Americans, as Veterans get older or have debilitating conditions, some move into assisted living facilities. However, there are also those who would prefer to live in an environment that’s more homelike.
Recognizing this need, the Salisbury VA Medical Center connects Veterans and caregivers through the Medical Foster Home program. The program allows Veterans to stay with caregivers, in the caregiver’s home, and get help with day-to-day activities that require assistance.
Megan Mathey, Medical Foster Home Program coordinator, said the program is a great option for Veterans who would prefer not to move into an assisted living facility.
“In medical foster homes, it’s not a group home setting and it’s not a situation where staff are coming in – it’s their home. This person, for lack of a better word, becomes like a family member,” Mathey said. “They still get to run errands, have activities, go to the movies, etc. They are there for holidays, birthdays, celebrations, everything – they do that with you,” she added.
Mathey said being in the program also makes receiving health care easier and more convenient.
“All of the Veterans that come into a medical foster home automatically get enrolled in home based primary care, which treats them with a team approach – they have a nurse, an occupational therapist, a social worker, a nurse practitioner, as well as a physician that oversees the program,” she said. “That’s another added benefit to the program – they don’t have to come in to the hospital to have their medical needs met, but they still come in for specialty care.”
Just like with any other foster home program, there are certain application procedures for prospective caregivers.
“We do have an application process for the caregivers because we want people whose first priority is that they want to care for a Veteran. I go out and meet with them before an inspection team visits them to make sure the environment is safe,” said Mathey.
The inspection team includes staff from fire and safety, a dietician, an occupational therapist, a social worker and a nurse.
“Once we check the home and make sure all of those things are in order, we can start matching Veterans with the caregiver,” she said.
It’s then that Mathey acts as sort of a matchmaker.
“One of my biggest jobs is making sure I have the right caregiver with the right Veteran. It needs to be a good match because an active Veteran needs to be with a caregiver that likes to be active. For Veterans that might need more care, we want to make sure their needs are going to be met,” she said. “I want to make sure the caregiver’s heart is in the right place, and that they really want to care for Veterans.”
There’s no application process for Veterans. They can contact Mathey directly to enroll in the Medical Foster Home program. She said the program is not for Veterans who do not have a medical need for daily assistance. Examples of those who need care are people who need assistance with physical care, medication management, mental health support and memory issues.
Mathey said caregivers who are looking for a long-term fostering commitment can provide much appreciated stability in the lives of Veterans.
“Our goal is that every match would be a permanent placement. We want to try to find caregivers that are able to care for Veterans in the best of times and the worst of times - even if a Veteran is progressing to where they cannot care for themselves as much,” she said. “That way, if it comes to a point that they are getting sick, we can to try to avoid taking them out of the home and placing them somewhere else. Ultimately, the goal is that they would get to stay there for the rest of their life if they wanted to.”
Mary Slaughter, one of Salisbury VAMC’s foster home caregivers, said she is glad to be able to provide that kind of environment for Army Veteran Alford Reeves “Reid” Smith. Slaughter and Smith have been together since June of last year.
“Growing up as a child in Buffalo, New York, my grandmother used to house Veterans. They were just part of the family and I loved that,” said Slaughter “I love helping people, and since my children had left home and gone to college, I had all of this empty space and time. So I searched for programs like this one and found the medical foster care program. It’s been great.”
Smith said the program has allowed him the freedom a nursing home wouldn’t.
“My wife’s health was failing, and I needed someone to look after me. I didn’t want to go to a nursing home, so medical foster care was a great option for me and my family,” said Smith, a former artilleryman. “Mary makes sure I get my medication and takes me on outings. I’m also able to see my family often - she even takes me to Florida to see my brother.”
Slaughter said she’s also benefited from having Smith in her home.
“It’s a joy working with Mr. Smith, and my whole family loves him. The program is about me helping him, but he has also helped me a lot,” she said. “Mr. Smith has me trying new things, we go everywhere together - we take walks in the park, he loves to swim and most of all he loves to travel. Mr. Smith is a member of the family.”
Smith said that family environment has made him feel right at home.
“Mary is a good friend to me and my family. She makes me feel like I am part of her family,” he said. “Everyone treats me very well - her mom, dad, little brother and her children are great to me. They all go out of their way to make sure I’m ok and happy.”
There are no costs involved for Veterans or caregivers to enroll, but Veterans do pay the caregiver an agreed upon amount each month. Mathey said the amount ranges from $2,200 to $3,000 per month depending on the care needs of the Veteran. The amount is negotiated between the Veteran and the caregiver. She added that the monthly cost for Veterans tends to be more affordable than for an assisted living facility.
Veterans and caregivers interested in participating in the Medical Foster Home program should contact Mathey at (704) 638-9000, extension 6641, to get more information or apply for the program.