Ms. Gordon started as a caregiver for the Medical Foster Home Program in August 2013. She cares for 3 veterans; a Vietnam era decorated female air force chemical engineer, a “boots on the ground” Vietnam Army soldier and a Navy Pearl Harbor Veteran (currently on Hospice).  Ms. Gordon has a BS Degree in Behavioral Science and once worked at the University of Medicine and Dentistry Hospital.

What is the VA medical foster home program and what is your role?

I am the Caregiver to 3 Veterans.  I do everything.  They assist.  I make and take them to their appointments, providing them transportation.  I give them their medication and make sure it’s on time.  I keep in touch with their families.  We go to restaurants.  I take them on vacations with me.  We all went to FL.  They are treated like part of my family.  My children are at college, but they come home often and bring lots of friends.  They are all comfortable with the Veterans and love them like family.  The Veterans all love them.  They all do everything with us.  I have a 96 year old, a 70 year old, and a 69 year old.

Why did you decide to get involved as a caregiver?

I am from Trinidad.  My mom did this.  It’s all I knew.  She would take people off the streets and we would bathe them and clean them up.  We would give them meals and then let them go.  I didn’t know that this is what I would do.  I wanted to work from home when my kids went to college.  That way we could talk all the time.  I graduated from Seton Hall in Mental Health and Behavioral Health.  The VA staff is wonderful.  It is great for me.

What type of training and support do you receive as a caregiver?

I got a certificate.  They provided training.  I wanted to be a nurse.  I did 3 years then changed my major.  How to feed, diet, socializing.  VA provided a 2 day course that was mandatory.  Everyone has different preferences.  I like the elderly.  Others like different types, some like the medical conditions, and some like mental health.  We all get together and talk.  We all have questions, like how to get them to shower and brush their teeth, how to socialize them.  I also use the VA respite program.

What do you see as the greatest impact of the medical foster home program?

A lot of people aren’t aware of the program.  A Social Worker told me about it.  It really takes a community to grow.  When they see it working, we need to spread it.   We go to church every Sunday together.  People see us.  One of my Veterans is on Hospice.  The hospice nurse had never heard of the program.  Right now it is only word of mouth.  We need some really good marketing.

How do you see this program supporting the wider older adult population in the US?

I think a lot of people are afraid sometimes of mental health conditions.  My training taught me that what they all need is love, care and consistency.  Once they have that they are no different than anyone else.  When they have the consistency there are no issues.  I am able to provide that consistency and stability.  I don’t allow them to isolate – we always have something going on.  It is so perfect for me and for them.  We all love each other.

More about Ethel: 

Ethel is highly motivated and industrious, but a “home body.” She loves caring for others and motivating them to reach their potential.   The training and support Ethel receives from the VA allows her to create a home for three veterans.   Several VA professionals have recognized  her exemplary care.  

Ethel also hosts 3 foreign students (non-relatives) from two Caribbean countries:  Seychelles and Jamaica.  She assists with their tuition and overall well-being so that they can complete their MD degrees.