THE TENNESSEAN – June 10, 2010
Vets who travel for care may get free lodging
By Clay Carey
J. Calabresi has to drive two hours each way and spend an entire day going from one doctor’s appointment to the next when she needs treatment for injuries she suffered in Operation Desert Storm.
The Army veteran lives in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, but her doctors work at the Alvin C. York Medical Center, run by the Veterans Administration, in Murfreesboro.
Once a month, she sets up as many doctors’ visits as she can.
“I have to get five appointments in one day,” said Calabresi, 38. “It’s very stressful.”
It shouldn’t be that way, according to a community group raising money for a free boarding house for veterans seeking treatment at Middle Tennessee’s Veterans Administration hospitals. The Tennessee Fisher House would be built in Murfreesboro, giving temporary lodging to patients who have to travel there for care. Veterans’ family members also could stay there.
“They shouldn’t have to worry about having a roof over their heads. All they need to concentrate on is the person in that hospital,” said Andrea Lawrence, the new president of the local Fisher House board of directors. Her group is affiliated with a foundation that runs 45 similar houses across the country. The Fisher House in Fort Campbell, KY is the closest one to Tennessee.
Saving families money
Organization officials say they have saved patients and their families nearly $150 million in lodging and transportation costs since the agency was founded in 1990.
Efforts to raise the nearly $3.5 million in local funding to break ground on the house in Tennessee started in 2007. Advocates hoped the building would be under construction by 2010, but fundraising lagged.
Lawrence said local advocates recently expanded efforts to build the house. Part of the proceeds from a 10-nautical mile run in Millington TN, over the weekend will benefit Tennessee Fisher House, and the agency also hopes to get donation from community groups.
VA hospital in Murfreesboro and Nashville anchor the nation’s sixth-largest VA health-care network. Nashville’s VA hospital is one of only five in the country that performs solid organ transplants, so patients who need a new kidney or other organ travel from all over the Southeast to come there.
Fisher House would give them an alternative to hotel expenses.
“Until a person has a loved one stuck dealing with long stays (for medical treatment), it’s hard to relate to how hard it is,” said Ronnie Davis, quartermaster of the Tennessee Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The average length of stay at a Fisher House was 16 days in 2009.
“So many (VA patients) don’t have the funds to stay in a hotel,” said Cindy Campbell, community liaison with the national Fisher House Foundation.
The Fisher House in Murfreesboro would provide room for 20 patients and families. Patients who need treatment at the VA hospital in Nashville would also be able to stay there; the organization would shuttle them back and forth to Music City.
Fisher House of Tennessee has raised about $417,000 mostly from veterans groups. The cost of building a Fisher House in Murfreesboro stands at $6.7 million; the agency’s national foundation will cover half of that, with locals picking up the rest of the tab.
The local agency has a website under construction, www.fisherhousemiddletn.org. Donations can be mailed to Fisher House of Tennessee, P. O. Box 774, Brentwood TN 37204-0774.