It is their home away from home. A place where they have a routine, a place where they have a number of activities in which to participate and a place where they have someone to watch over them at all times.
Scott and Marilyn Olson opened Home Sweet Home in their Cambridge home three years ago. The medical foster home provides veterans, many of whom have some level of dementia or a disability, an alternative to assisted living or long-term care facilities.
The Olsons decided to open the facility after Scott attended a job fair offered by Work Force Development. Neither Scott nor Marilyn served in the military, so they feel opening their home to veterans is a way they can give back to those who served this country.
“He was fascinated that we could do our part,” Marilyn said of Scott’s views of the program.
Since they opened their home, the Olsons have welcomed seven veterans, including the two who are currently living with them. Rex McMahill and Lupe Munoz are Home Sweet Home residents. Both are World War II veterans – Rex served in the Navy and Lupe served in the Merchant Marines. Rex has lived there approximately one year, while Lupe has lived there two years. Both men said they enjoy living in the Olsons’ home and appreciate the care they receive.
“If I need something, they’re right there,” Lupe said. “It’s really something. I really enjoy what they do.”
The Olsons consider the veterans to be part of their family and enjoy the relationships formed with those who are welcomed into their home. One of the veterans was an artist and taught them to focus on the little things in life.
“They teach us to slow down and appreciate life,” Marilyn said.
The veterans have a routine they follow every day, something that Marilyn said helps them know what to expect. Part of their routine involves doing various activities. Lupe enjoys doing aquatic therapy and planting things outside. This past spring he planted tomatoes and a rose bush outside the home. Other activities they participate in include playing bean bag baseball, putting together puzzles and attending luncheons with fellow veterans. The circular layout of the ranch-style home provides a walking path for the veterans to get exercise on days when they cannot go outside. When they are not busy doing an activity, Rex can often be found sitting in a chair with the Olsons’ two Yorkies sitting on his lap.
Jan O’Briant, medical foster home and adult day program coordinator, works with veterans to determine what type of living facility will be best for them when they can no longer live in their own home. She said the Veterans Affairs Iowa Health Care System began the medical foster home placement program five years ago and have since placed more than 40 veterans in central Iowa. The Olsons’ home is just one of seven homes in Iowa supported by the Veterans Affairs.
“They do an incredibly good job,” O’Briant said of the Olsons.
The other homes are located in Polk County and Warren County, both of which have two homes, and Guthrie and Madison counties, which each have one.
To qualify to become a medical foster home, O’Briant said the homeowners must go through an extensive interview process. The homes must also be suitable for veterans – handicap restrooms, no transitions between rooms, etc. The Olsons had to do some renovations to their home prior to opening it up to veterans. They added a ramp out front and a generator to serve as a backup in case the electricity goes out.
“Having dementia patients in the home, we needed a generator. Otherwise we would have to go somewhere when the electricity goes out and that confuses them,” Marilyn said.
The amount veterans pay to live in a medical foster home depends on the level of care they need. O’Briant said there are funds available to assist veterans who live in such homes. A home based medical care team – consisting of a registered nurse, dietician, recreational therapist, speech therapist, psychiatrist, among others – visits each home on a regular basis. The Olsons have also undergone training so they can care for the veterans.
Marilyn said she would “absolutely” recommend others to consider opening their home to veterans.
“You don’t realize how much you’ll get out of it,” Marilyn said. “You get so much more than you give.”