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Medical Foster Homes: Maine Veterans Embrace Nursing Home Alternative
11/12/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Veterans who require medical care on a short or long-term basis, but who don't want to live in a nursing home or institution, are finding a unique alternative in medical foster homes. Over the past 12 years, more than 2,000 veterans around the country have found treatment and solace in a program supported and overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs. As Susan Sharon reports the idea is to cut costs and improve the quality of life for disabled vets.

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Joe Levesque

MPBN's Susan Sharon interviews veteran - and medical foster home resident - Joe Levesque.

At his home in West Paris, 78-year-old Joe Levesque lives with a family he only met three years ago. Levesque is a veteran of the Korean War who was awarded the Silver Star at the age of 19 for risking his life to save a comrade. He lost an eye in the process.

His new family includes a friendly boxer named Abby, a pitbull named Chief and another veteran who moved in not long after he did. Levesque says he likes the arrangement. "Oh yes. For any serviceman, it's a place for them to come," he says.

Susan Sharon: "Did you want to live here instead of a nursing home?"

Joe Levesque: "Yeah, it's closer to my relatives and closer to what I want."

Levesque's own wife passed away several years ago. He lived at the VA hospital at Togus for awhile. But then he found a medical foster home placement with Bonnie Sessions, her husband and children in a house that is only just down the road from where he used to live.

Sessions is a registered nurse with experience in geriatrics. As Levesque's primary caregiver, she helps him with diet, exercise, bathing, dressing and other medical needs. And she says his outlook and activity level have improved. When he first arrived he had mostly been staying in bed.

"He needs to be encouraged to do things," Sessions says. "When he first came here he wasn't doing much for himself, but now, we take Joe out to lunch. He's been to birthday parties for my grandchildren and we've taken him to lawn sales. He loves to go looking at antiques. Antiques is his thing."

Caregivers such as Sessions and her daughter-in-law, who helps provides respite, are required to go through FBI background checks before getting into the foster care program. And they can also expect regular, unannounced visits from a VA home coordinator.

Each veteran is also given a primary care team. That means a nurse practitioner, dietician, occupational therapist and social worker also provide support. In return, caregivers are compensated up to $3,000 a month for each veteran that they care for, so it's an arrangement that can be mutually beneficial - for the caregiver, the veteran and the VA.

Terry Melanson is a medical foster home coordinator in western Maine who says the VA will pay for nursing home care for veterans who are at least 70 percent disabled as a result of their service.

"In my caseload right now I have 17 veterans placed, and out of that 17 I have - I believe it's 11 or 12 that are actually choosing - they're 70 percent or better service connected - and they are choosing to go into these medical foster homes," Melanson says.

Susan Sharon: "Why?"

Terry Melanson: "Because of the quality of care, and the individualized attention that they receive, and the fact that they are part of something. Life isn't over. They're not being warehoused or put away somewhere."

Those veterans who are not eligible for VA reimbursement have to pay their nursing home costs out of pocket or through MaineCare, which requires them to spend down their assets. And since most nursing homes cost at least $8,000 a month, Melanson says medical foster homes can seem like an attractive option.

According to the VA the program is also saving taxpayers money - about $1 million every 12 days. But there is a waiting list. The VA needs more qualified caregivers. Home care coordinator Morgan Delattre says training can be formal, or as informal as having cared for a family member.

"That's what we're really looking for are those loving homes that are willing to make their home open to one or two veterans and really have them become a part of their family."

Bonnie Sessions advice is to have someone lined up who can offer respite care when needed. She finds she does occasionally need a break.

But she knows that her work has been rewarding to veteran Joe Levesque, who says he'd be happy to spend his remaining days living with Sessions and her family.

Photo:  Morgan Delattre


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