Rio Communities couple opens home as medical foster home for vets

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It was an afternoon of joy and happy tears as family and friends gathered to officially cut the ribbon and open New Mexico's first medical foster home in Rio Communities.

Jim and Kathy McDonald have opened their home and hearts, offering veterans who are unable to live alone an alternative to nursing homes and other institutional facilities.

Their home is now part of the Medical Foster Home Program under the New Mexico VA Health Care System.

The McDonalds are the first family in the state to pass the exhaustive screening process for the medical foster home program. Families willing to be care takers for veterans have to go through an FBI background check, a home inspection, as well as multiple interviews to determine compatibility.

Their house is now home to two veterans — 87-year-old Leroy Bogan, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, and William Clinton, age 90, an Army veteran who served in World War II.

George Marnell, director for the NMVAHCS, called the ribbon cutting "an auspicious occasion," saying, "This level of service is very important so that our vets can enjoy the benefits of living in a non-institutional setting."

Marnell said implementing the program in New Mexico wasn't an easy task, with the state office having to show it had the expertise and staff that could provide that expertise.

"They had to prove to the national central office they had the ability," Marnell said. "But what they really needed is Evynea Rocco, who showed the energy, drive and skills to manage the program and make it happen."

Evynea Rocco is the NMVACHS' medical foster home coordinator.

Thanking the McDonalds for opening their home to veterans, Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said their actions "move me, heart and soul. It is very gratifying to be part of this. I wish success for the program and am grateful to all the people who have stepped up to help our veterans."

When Clinton's daughter Marietta Mills addressed the crowd, there were the expected Bill Clinton jokes, but she quickly turned serious.

Saying she "fell into" the program, Mills called her father an amazing person and someone whose care was of the utmost importance.

"I knew I wasn't qualified to take care of his needs. But taking care of my dad had always been my job," Mills said. "I had reservations about letting someone else take over. I had a hard time relinquishing that. He's special."

Mills referred to Rocco and the McDonalds as "angels" descended to Earth.

"Dad has absolutely thrived in this environment. He is doing well, the rest of the family is doing well. Jim and Kathy provide a loving family environment," she said. "He wants to live to be 100, and if Jim and Kathy have anything to do with that, he will. This is the most wonderful program anyone could have come up with. It's a Godsend." 

The program provides care to veterans who have complex medical and/or mental health needs, and are no longer able to live independently. Under the program, the veteran resides like a family member in the home of the caregiver in the community.  

All homes are inspected and approved by the New Mexico VA Health Care System, which ensures caregivers are well trained to provide the best possible care.

"Unlike a traditional nursing home, the medical foster home offers a warm, family-oriented environment while providing the safe, personal care and supervision of the veteran," said Rocco.

The medical foster home, in partnership with the NMVAHCS Home Based Primary Care program, provides the caregiver with ongoing support and training needed to enhance a caregiver's skills and success.

Under the MFH program, fiscal responsibility lies between the caregiver and the veteran or the veteran's health care advocate. Veterans wishing to live in a medical foster home are first required to be enrolled for VHA health care.  

If you or someone you know are interested in becoming a caregiver for veterans under the MFH program, contact Evynea Rocco at 265-1711, ext. 2038.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.