November is National Caregiver Month and few programs at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) have done more to support our Veterans' families than Fisher House.
Since the VAPAHCS Fisher House opened in April 2006, nearly 2,400 families have stayed 32,130 nights free of charge. The average visit is 22 days, but many families reside there for six months to a year.
One young wife with two small children was there for eight months. Her husband, an Army sergeant, lost both legs and was severely brain injured by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. When he arrived at the VA in Palo Alto, he was still in a coma. Now he is talking and actively participating in physical and speech therapies. Because of the Fisher House, his wife and children could stay with him throughout his arduous road to recovery.
Our average occupancy rate has increased to 100% for both Fiscal & Calendar Year 2013, and to date we have placed 4,950 families in the Fisher House since we opened in 2006.
The wife of an injured Marine, just 21 years old, was eight months pregnant with their first baby when her husband was badly injured in Iraq. She arrived at VA Palo Alto knowing no one, but that didn’t last long. The other families at the Fisher House literally adopted her. VA ensured she had prenatal health care at Stanford Hospital, where she also delivered her baby. After her delivery she said, "I had so much attention, there was never a time I was sad or lonely. I wish everyone could have had the kind of family I had at the Fisher House. I felt so loved."
There has been an extraordinary outpouring of support to the Fisher House from the community. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Safeway, Medicore and Target and organizations like the local Rotary Clubs, VFW and Blue Star Moms have given donations of food, money and presents to the families, not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the year. Many guests come here with very little other than a devotion to their loved one's recovery.
Alan Armstrong, who works at the Fisher House, says that families frequently express that the Fisher House is a "true blessing." The families are appreciative on so many levels. They can make home-cooked meals for their loved ones. When the injured service members become ambulatory, they come to the Fisher House and get relief from the hospital atmosphere. The families talk to each other and offer support that only someone in a similar situation can do. It even helps them to focus on another's problems – distracting them from some of their own burdens for a time.
The houseguests have compared the VAPAHCS Fisher House to a 5-star hotel. "I've heard it again and again and again. From the standpoint of craftsmanship, décor and friendliness, people are just incredibly impressed," said Mr. Armstrong. "One of the mothers recently said, 'I have never stayed in a hotel this nice. I've seen pictures, but never been in one.'"
In addition to the quality, of equal importance is the unique sense of comfort and genuine care from the VA staff and other families at the house; something you would not find in a 5-star hotel.