Western Pa. health system receives grant to aid veterans' caregivers
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — When servicemembers return home, into the welcoming arms of family, spouses and children, things can be brought home with them – or left behind. Wounded warriors the country over sometimes have obstacles in re-adapting to domestic life – an incapacitating injury or inner demons that flare tempers and induce panic.
Last year, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving offered a competitive grant for care programs that cater to veterans of modern theaters of war. Conemaugh Health System was the sole recipient. Through it, the Wounded Warrior Family Caregiver Program took shape.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to have this,” said Barbara Duryea, director of research and development at Conemaugh. “The high amount of National Guard service members we have in this area – we thought it was a really good fit to offer the resources for these family members.”
Through the entirely free service, caregivers of veterans who participated in Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn can receive personalized, interactive support and resources that make it easier to help rehabilitate injured or stressed veterans in the home.
The program doesn’t directly assist with caregivers’ financial needs, but it can point them toward organizations and resources that can help.
The program serves 10 counties: Cambria, Somerset, Blair, Bedford, Indiana, Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene and Allegheny.
Duryea said the program is based on evidence of success in counseling programs. It helps caregivers develop problem-solving skill sets and provide them the tools to reduce the stress of daily life through worksheets and dialogues.
It also helps give caregivers confidence, showing them they can help their family lead normal, happy and full lives again.
“These are lifelong issues. There’s no cure for these,” Duryea said. “Empowering caregivers to keep people in their homes for longer periods of time allows quality of life for both the care recipient and the caregiver.”
Counseling can be done over the phone or via Skype.
Lisa Pasierb, lead interventialist with the program, said the one-on-one interactions are tailored to the participants’ needs.
“One might want information on how to get their loved one out of bed in the morning or how to take more time for themselves in the morning,” she said. “Sometimes, the caregiving burden is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, based in Americus, Ga., is named for the former first lady, who, in her younger days, was doing the same work the caregivers at Conemaugh and in veterans’ homes are doing now.
She and former President Jimmy Carter visited the center in late October as part of a caregiving summit. Both Duryea and Pasierb were in attendance and underwent program training.
They also got to rub elbows with the presidential couple.
“(Mrs. Carter) is absolutely passionate about caregiving,” Duryea said. “We, as a nation, need to support those caregivers, because there’s not enough resources to support everyone who needs long-term care for any chronic condition.”
Pasierb said the meet-and-greet was definitely the highlight of her trip.
“Mrs. Carter is very gracious, very attentive, speaks her own mind, has her own questions,” she said. “They’re both very engaging.”
One of the questions facing the RCI?reps at Conemaugh’s Wounded Warrior Family Caregiver Program is how to teach more families about free services like the one they offer.
“The challenges and problems they face are every day... They have to adjust to their new, normal everyday life. And that is a challenge,” Pasierb said.
“Once they realize there is the support of a program like this, they can make daily living in their household become a little easier, a little less stressful.”