Medical foster care provides option for New Mexico veterans
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new program in New Mexico is matching caregivers with veterans who can no longer live independently but still want to stay in the community.
A medical foster home is designed to be an alternative to a nursing home, says Evynea Rocco, medical foster home coordinator for the New Mexico VA Health Care System. Each home provides room, board and 24-hour personal care for no more than three veterans at a time.
“The home is very personalized,” says Rocco, also a social worker. “Our hope is to find a caregiver who is committed to caring for the veteran as though the caregiver is providing care for their own family member.”
The local program started last year but the national initiative began in 1999. Across the country, 44 caregiver homes provide care for 515 veterans.
Ideally, Rocco would like to have five foster homes up and running by January and another five the next year. No homes are operating yet in New Mexico, as Rocco is still interviewing caregivers.
The medical foster home partners with the VA’s homebased primary care program, which sends medical and behavioral health providers into veterans’ homes. When veterans are placed in a home, they receive medical care there through the program.
To participate, caregivers must be over 21, rent or own their own home, pass an extensive interview, home safety inspection and FBI background check and have CPR certification, says Rocco. They do not necessarily need prior caregiver experience.
Foster homes do not need to be wheelchair-accessible but if, for example, a caregiver says they are not able to lift a veteran, Rocco would not place a veteran who needs to be transferred in that home.
Veterans pay caregivers directly, usually $1,300-$3,000 per month, depending on their needs. Medicare does not compensate for foster homes, Rocco says.
Veterans are referred to the program by primary care doctors, inpatient units or family caregivers who can no longer care for them.
Their needs vary. Some veterans may have trouble grooming or dressing themselves while others may need help getting out of bed or preparing food.
After a veteran is placed in a home, the caregiver receives training specific to their needs and the VA provides oversight to be sure the relationship works well, she says.
Rocco has found some caregivers in the Albuquerque area but is looking for more. When she interviews candidates, she looks at whether they understand the commitment and whether they have their own support system in place.
When she visited medical foster homes in Florida, Rocco was impressed by caregivers who made veterans feel at home and even took them on vacations. Many caregivers get involved because they want to give back to veterans, she says.
The relationship should be comfortable for veterans and caregivers, she says, adding that the program’s motto is “where heroes meet angels.”