Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
Bay Pines Fisher House a “Home Away from Home” for Veterans’ Families
August 10, 2015
BAY PINES, FL – Eleanor Frankeny, wife of 82-year-old Korean War Veteran Albert Frankeny, makes no secret of her gratitude for the staff and volunteers at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s Fisher House located at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center. If it wasn’t for the house, she said, her ability to be by her husband’s side during his lengthy hospital stay would have not been possible.
"Because of the Fisher House, I have been able to be with my husband every day during his recovery from several serious medical issues," Eleanor said. "I feel comfortable, I can live independently and consider the staff, volunteers and others staying in the house my family."
The Bay Pines Fisher House is "a home away from home" for families of Veterans and military service members receiving care at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center. The nine bedroom facility gives family members an opportunity to be close to their loved ones during hospitalizations by providing comfortable lodging in a calm environment, only steps away from the medical center.
Family members and caregivers of Veterans who live 50 miles or more from the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center can stay at the Fisher House free of charge with a referral from a Veteran’s respective social worker. Lodging is on a first come, first served basis. Reservations are not accepted.
Guests can stay at the house for as long as their loved one is hospitalized or receiving treatment at the medical center. The Bay Pines Fisher House is one of about 60 houses located at major military and VA medical centers across the country. The houses are donated to the U.S. government by the Fisher House Foundation.
Eleanor’s stay at the Fisher House began after her husband, a former U.S. Army infantryman, started experiencing medical problems associated with his back. The couple had just completed their lengthy drive from Moon Township, Penn. to Palm Dale, Fla. for their traditional 6-month stay in the Sunshine State when Eleanor made the decision to take Albert to the emergency room in Bay Pines.
"Albert is not someone to complain about pain," Eleanor said. She described her husband as a physically active man who enjoys golfing, biking, walking and always on the move. "When he started to complain about his lower back, I could see he was in severe pain. The drive to the ER was very difficult for him to endure."
After a short time in the emergency department, Albert was discharged. Early the next morning, Albert’s condition began to worsen. Quickly, Eleanor loaded her husband into their car and headed back to the medical center where Albert was quickly admitted into the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).
Eleanor said her husband stayed in the MICU for about 5 days and later underwent major surgery and a very lengthy recovery. Early during Albert’s hospital admission, she was connected with a social worker who made her aware of local lodging options to include the Fisher House.
"I had no idea the Fisher House existed," Eleanor said reflecting on her interaction with the social worker. "I was truly amazed that the service was available and very thankful for the opportunity to be close to my husband."
Eleanor quickly integrated into the Fisher House environment. After a while, she became known as "the house mom" for her willingness to help other family members new to the house, said Lana Toenjes, Bay Pines Fisher House Manager.
"Eleanor was such a blessing to the house," Toenjes said. "During her time with us, she took many families under her wing to help them feel more comfortable, not only with their new living environment but the circumstances surrounding their stay."
Family support, in many cases, is vital to recovery, Toenjes said. The Fisher House enables this level of support for family member who would otherwise not be able to participate in their loved one’s healing process. Eleanor is a good example of that, Toenjes said.
"It can be a pretty scary when a loved one is admitted to the hospital for a serious medical issue," said Toenjes. "Things become much more complicated when you live hours away from the hospital in which your loved one is hospitalized. I am extremely happy that the Fisher House was a good fit for Eleanor and she was able to be by Albert’s side to take part in the healing process."
Eleanor left the Fisher House on August 4 following her husband’s discharge from the medical center. The couple, who have been married for 48 years, traveled back to Pennsylvania a few days later where Albert began outpatient rehabilitation services through the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System.
Eleanor said they still plan to make their annual trip to Florida in December – the same trip they have made together for the last 20 years. She also plans to become a Fisher House volunteer in Pittsburgh sometime in the near future.
For more information about the Bay Pines Fisher House, please visit www.baypines.va.gov/services/fisherhouse.asp or call Lana Toenjes, Fisher House Manager, at 727-398-6661 extension 11350.
Members of the local community can be part of the Fisher House mission. The Bay Pines VAHCS Fisher House depends on volunteers and monetary donations from individuals and groups to support its programs. To learn more about how you can help the Fisher House and other VA programs, please visit www.baypines.va.gov/giving/index.asp or call our VA Voluntary Service office at 727-398-9394.
About the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
The Bay Pines VAHCS is one of the nation’s leading VA healthcare systems, employing more than 4,000 medical professionals and support staff dedicated to providing the very best care to Veterans residing in southwest Florida. The organization is the fourth busiest VA health care system in the country in terms of patients served and is accredited by The Joint Commission, Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and several other nationally recognized accrediting organizations. The Bay Pines VAHCS operates nine facilities to include the main medical center located in Bay Pines and outpatient clinics located in Bradenton, Cape Coral, Naples, Palm Harbor, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Sebring. To learn more, please visit www.baypines.va.gov or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vabaypines.