Adrian woman sets the stage for foster care program in the regional VA systemWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | email@example.com
Edith Noveskey laughs as she recalls the first time she tried to serve her housemate Richard Sebring spinach.
And salmon? She’ll never try that again either.
Sebring, sunken into his recliner, shrugs and tilts his head to grin at Noveskey. After months of sharing the same roof, she’s figured out what he likes. She’s also figured out how to regulate his medication schedule, how to bathe, shave and dress him.
When Sebring hoists himself out of his chair onto his walker, Noveskey is there to tug on his belt loop to keep his pants from sagging.
When Sebring creeps toward the front porch to wait for the bus, Noveskey is there to prop open the door.
Noveskey, 74, is 67-year-old Sebring’s caregiver. And they’re not in a nursing home. The two are part of the Medical Foster Home Program that the Veterans Affairs (VA) launched in 2000. Since then, 424 caregivers in 36 states have opened their homes to veterans.
The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, which covers the Toledo area, started looking for applicants in 2010. Noveskey is the first to try it out in this system.
“It’s a nice way to get to know people,” Noveskey said.
Noveskey started taking care of people in her home after her spouse, John, died about nine years ago. She cared for one woman for about four years so her house was mostly equipped with the necessary elements that the VA requires.
To prepare her home for caregiving, Noveskey had to gut her bathroom, redo her ceilings, install special fire alarms and lighting and place a ramp between her family room and dining room.
The cost came out of her own pockets.
“My credit cards are all maxed out,” she said.
But Noveskey is passionate for caregiving, she said. Plus, it’s not as though she does this for free. Veterans who enroll in the program directly pay their caregivers $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on their needs. The average cost for a semi-private room in a nursing home is about $6,235 per month. A home health aide costs about $21 per hour on average, according to www.longtermcare.gov.
Like a home health aide situation, veterans in medical foster care homes receive visits from hospital staff. This is covered by typical VA benefits, said April Bartlett, the medical foster home coordinator for the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. A nurse and a physical therapist visit Sebring once a month, for example.
“The program is meant to provide veterans with an alternate longterm care option in a safe and home-like environment and just to be able to offer vets the choice to remain living in a community, family home setting if they are faced with the need to move into a nursing home or a more institutionalized setting,” Bartlett said. “The tagline for the program is ‘Where heroes meet angels.’”
Finding those “angels” is a rigorous process.
Noveskey had to open her home for inspection by a social worker, a dietitian, registered nurse and physical therapist. She also had to undergo interviews and background checks. She and anyone else who lives in or moves into her house must be fingerprinted and pass health tests that check for tuberculosis. This also includes any help that she hires.
It has been about two years since she began the application process and Sebring moved in during March.
Noveskey is one of three approved Medical Foster Homes in the Ann Arbor system. Hosts in Camden, Mich., have been approved and are awaiting residents. Tami Brockway, a Toledo resident, has also been approved and is waiting for someone to move in.
Brockway’s two sons grew up with two couples: Their own parents and an older married couple whom the Brockways have fostered.
Applying for the VA program was a natural fit for a family of caregivers, she said.
“I like the challenge; I love new people coming into my home and you just feel good about yourself that you’re helping out someone who’s served our country,” Brockway said. “You don’t realize what they’ve been through unless you’ve been through it yourself, so it’ll be a new experience for me.”
An added bonus is the fact that the VA allows its caregivers to take 30 days off each year, during which a VA professional steps in to take over, she said.
The VA plans to expand the program to 102 sites in 46 states this year, Bartlett said.
As Sebring continues to adjust to his new home, he said he couldn’t be any happier with the program. He had previously been living with his niece, but she had little time to stay home with him as it became more difficult to care for himself.
Sebring, Noveskey and her dog Kasper have become quite the family. He shares with Noveskey his Vietnam War era memories from the months he spent on Navy ships and she makes sure he’s content and healthy.
“She does everything. She gives me baths, fixes my lunches, gives me suppers,” Sebring said. “She does it all.”