May 29, 2009
No more expensive hotels or cramped couches for families of veterans being treated for long-term illnesses at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
A little over six years ago Mike and Joyce Kibler from Topeka, Kansas checked into the Fisher House at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) as the first official guests. Since that day, more than 12,500 guests have stayed at this “home away from home” for families of patients receiving medical care at the MEDVAMC.
There are no costs for families staying at the Houston Fisher House. In November 2003, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi accepted a proffer from the Fisher House Foundation, Inc. to build a 21-suite facility on the Houston VA campus.
The Fisher House in Houston receives support through the Combined Federal Campaign and donations from the community. This is essential for the continued operation of not only this facility but also the 2nd Fisher House being planned. Recently our current Secretary of Veterans Affairs, retired U.S. Army General Eric K. Shinseki, signed a request to the Fisher Foundation requesting consideration for an additional house. Once more the efforts of those around the local community can assist with the construction of the newest place for our Veterans and their loved ones. The newest “Home” will be located on campus and will begin construction once the proffer is made from the Fisher Foundation signifying funding is available.
Taking the lead in the fundraising effort, Richard E. Wainerdi, Ph.D., president of Texas Medical Center, has again accepted the challenge to raise the necessary funds, a sum that will be matched by the Fisher House Foundation for construction expenses. It is hoped that major corporations, non-profit foundations, local businesses, veteran service organizations, individuals and federal and state lawmakers will be as quick to respond with encouragement and support as they were in the past.
During the operation of the “home,” the length of stay in the Houston Fisher House has averaged 10 days; the occupancy rate is approximately 98 percent with usage hitting 100 percent over the last several months. Each night finds an average of 34 guests in the house. The ages of the guests have ranged from a one week old baby to a gentleman in his 90’s (visiting his inpatient son who was in his late 60’s.)
“Our guests are very appreciative of all that we have to offer them. Former guests have even stopped by just to say hello and catch up. The families form their own tight network and stay in touch with one another. The camaraderie is amazing to watch,” said Fisher House Manager Frank Kelley.
The Houston Fisher House is roomy enough to accommodate 21 veterans and their families who meet established criteria. Each bedroom suite has its own private bath. The house also has a communal kitchen, library/living room, dining room, family room, and laundry facilities. Additions to the home since opening include picnic tables, a barbeque grill, additional exterior lighting, security cameras and air purification fans in each room.
The Fisher House has been embraced by veteran service organizations and community groups who provide family members with home cooking, game nights, and tickets to special events in Houston. A local garden society has donated a tree each year for the past four years and plans are already made for another this upcoming year.
The MEDVAMC had more than 1,000,000 outpatient visits and more than 16,000 inpatient admissions in fiscal year 2010. Veterans from around the country are referred to the Houston VA for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, ophthalmology, nuclear medicine and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The facility is home to a Mental Illness Research, Education, & Clinical Center; a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; a Network Polytrauma Center; a Liver Transplant Center; and a Parkinson’s disease Research, Education, & Clinical Center.
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