The Fisher Houseis built and staffed specifically for the families of our service members and veterans to stay while their children, spouses or parents are undergoing surgical procedures or working through rehabilitation programs.
Currently, the hospital is unable to supply rooms for families on a guaranteed basis. With the cost of hotel rooms averaging close to $110.00 per night, plus the car rental fee and meals, the majority of families who live outside of the Bay Area are unable to afford to stay with their loved ones through this most difficult time.
Since the VAPAHCS Fisher House opened in April 2006, more than 1,100 families have stayed there 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 has been 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 Fisher House occupancy rate is on average 98 percent. We often need to house guests in nearby hotels because it is full. Fortunately, we have donated funds that help families pay their hotel bills and offset some of their commuting costs. However, the Fisher House is much, much more than just a free place to stay. It also serves as a haven for many of the families.
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 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 staff and other families at the house; something you would not find in a 5-star hotel.
Another group who are thankful for the VAPAHCS Fisher House is VA staff, particularly our nurses and social workers. Prior to the Fisher House, staff constantly struggled over how to help these families in need. Our Hometel was only a partial solution and not one at all for families with children. The Fisher House has taken a huge burden off of our staff, allowing them to focus all their attention on their patients. The fact that a nurse on our Spinal Cord Injury Unit made the first donation of $5,000 to build the Fisher House, says a lot about the need.