VA's medical foster home program puts veterans in private residences
By Mary Powers (Contact), Memphis Commercial Appeal
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When a doctor delivered the news that frailty and increasingly complicated health problems meant living alone was no longer an option, the Bowlings were distraught.

"I didn't want to go to a nursing home," explained Alicia Bowling, 88.

Thanks to a new Memphis Veterans Medical Center program, she and her 90-year-old husband, Julian, didn't stay long.

In January, the Bowlings moved from a Shelby County nursing home into a spare bedroom in the Bartlett home of Linda and Steve Hornaday. The VA's medical foster home program brought the two families together.

Started about 10 years ago with a few families in Hot Springs, Ark., the program has expanded to 13 communities in nine states or territories where about 400 veterans now live in private homes, rather than nursing homes. Plans call for expanding the effort nationwide.

The VA screens prospective homes, matches veterans and caregivers and coordinates health care through its home care program. Veterans pay caregivers. Room, board and other services cost between $1,200 and $2,400 per month.

So far, dozens of Mid-South veterans have expressed interest in the program, but just two homes have been approved. Three more are under review.

"This requires a leap of faith," said Dabney Collum, a social worker and Memphis program coordinator.

"This is still a really foreign concept for people," she said. "But it is a wonderful dynamic alternative to nursing home care."

Unlike state-licensed care homes, the VA program requires care be provided in the caregiver's own home. Homes are limited to a maximum of three paying residents. Collum makes announced and unannounced visits. The VA Home Based Primary Care program staff are in and out of the house regularly, sometimes several times each week.

"We really do hope they will receive the same level of care they would in a nursing home, but we also really want them to become part of the caregiver's family," Collum said. "We want this to be a long-term arrangement."

Seated on a couch in the large family room off the Hornadays' kitchen, Alicia Bowling said she was "scared to death" about moving into a stranger's home, but her husband was sold from the beginning. She was persuaded to give it a try after a nephew visited the Hornadays. The Bowlings also visited before they moved in.

"They treat us like family," said Alicia Bowling.

She helped plant flowers in the yard, likes to watch TV with the family basset hound's head resting on her lap, and called the Hornadays' 9-year-old son and 7-year-old grandson "dolls." The entire household usually sits down to one meal together every day.
Very cool. :)

Commercial Appeal