Twenty miles west of Chicago, in Lombard, Illinois, Forres Barnes sits at the bedside of Jim Sauer, an 86-year-old Air Force Veteran.

Sauer is bedbound due to multiple chronic illnesses. Barnes, a Hines VA Hospital nurse, has provided cared at his home for more than two years through VA’s Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) program.

Today, Barnes is administering Jim Sauer’s second COVID-19 vaccination.

Since 1972, Hines HBPC medical staff have crisscrossed Chicago’s western suburbs providing home-based primary care to Veterans whose limited mobility or remoteness makes clinic-based medical care ineffective or difficult.

As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed American life, HBPC staff found their roles changing as well.

“When COVID hit, we never stopped going into homes,” Barnes explained. “In many ways, our role grew into a lifeline to the outside world.”

Adjusting to the new normal

According to Barnes, he found himself explaining not only the seriousness of the new virus but also practical ways to adjust to its new normal.

“I had to show them things like how to order online,” he said. “Things many of us now know but, if you’re older, you never needed to learn.”

Pictured above, Barnes administers the COVID-19 vaccine to 101-year-old Edward Kulesza. The WWII Veteran is part of VA’s Home-Based Primary Care program.

(Editor’s Note: Yeah, we know. For those of you in your 60s saying No Way! We double checked. Veteran Kulesza IS 101!)

“I can’t tell you how much this program has been a lifesaver,” Sauer’s wife, Maribeth, explained. “If we have questions or something comes up, we can call Forres. We’ve never had care like this before.”

According to Barnes, when COVID vaccines were made available to all Veterans through VA, HBPC staff began educating their patients about its importance. Soon, many signed up.

Vaccinating patients across large distances isn’t without challenges.

Limited time window for stable vaccine

“We have to be careful with how we do it,” explained Emily Ellsworth, a pharmacist for the program. “There’s a limited time window for how long the vaccine is stable, so they take five vaccines at a time and they vaccinate five people within a certain ten-mile radius.”

Many Hines VA HBPC staff spend years with their patients, transforming their relationships into more than a caregiver.

“We’re like a second family to a lot of these people,” Ellsworth said. “We’re a bridge from the clinic. We always tell them if they get better they can go back to the clinic, but all of them want to stay in the program because we are a huge support to them and their families. They really enjoy being a part of it.”

Maribeth Sauer agreed. “If it wasn’t for a home nurse, I think we’d have to keep Jim in a facility because we couldn’t care for him,” she said. “But, thanks to the program, he can stay home with us.”

Learn more about VA Home-Based Primary Care.


Matthew Moeller is a public affairs specialist for the Hines VA Hospital.

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9 Comments

  1. HERBERT HOLEN April 14, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    WELCOME HOME BROTHER.

  2. James Godfrey April 13, 2021 at 7:47 am

    The SC columbia based va is the worse that I have been to I have been to Augusta ga and oteen nc hospital they are different as day and night the people are friendly and try to help you most of columbia people are rude and not easy to deal with it takes a act of congress to see your provider even worst since covid you travel to columbia it takes months to get travel pay where I go to the other va hospitals get traffic pay within 2 weeks prime example I got my 1st covid shot in columbia they then got the vaccine in greenville sc I called and tried to go greenville but they would not schedule me in there l live 25 miles from greenville and 120 miles from columbia

  3. Katherine Holloman April 13, 2021 at 12:58 am

    Yeah the VA loves bragging about doing things that they’re not doing they cared for their homebound veterans by denying veterans that were Vietnam war vets that have permanent mobility issues who needs 24-hour care they deny them and their spouses through one telehealth visit and several missed phone calls to get into the Caregiver program the new one that they just revamped that’s how they’re taking care of their veterans ! My name is Katherine Holloman and my husband Olive Holloman which is a 73-year-old 100% disabled vet who’s Mobility is narrowed down to a motorized wheelchair who cannot dress himself from the waist down was denied from this program so now we have to re apeal why must black Vietnam vets jump through hoops just to get what’s due to them is it not enough that he jumped out of a perfectly good plane and got permanent nerve damage in his low back where his Mobility started messing with him now it’s gotten worse because of his age but he still continues to fight we will continue to fight to get what’s due to him ! I am so sick of seeing you guys pat yourself on the back when we have so many uneducated ill-informed veterans out there that should have so many services and resources discuss with them it’s like you have to find out though word of mouth because the VA is not going to tell you anything they’re just going to deny you SMH so frustrated at this point and he couldn’t go anywhere because of the pandemic because he also has COPD but I his wife who has done all of his running doctor’s appointment medication refill physical therapy we don’t qualify for this program at all this is our immediate reality and it’s not a joke !

  4. Jami R. April 12, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    Too bad it’s not available everywhere. I’m in Los Angeles, Ca. I am SMC and don’t have access like that. Hardly even see my own provider. VA needs to have the same access in across all VA’s no matter the level of disability. I have gone through congress even to get outside care just to meet basic needs for service-connected disabilities that the VA doesn’t treat with no success. This system is so exhausting…I have driven two hours away to get a vaccine though… considering local VA’s haven’t gotten it together yet.

  5. Roger w Reisman April 12, 2021 at 11:16 am

    wished they did this at our VA in Rochester New York. We have lots of home bound vets and I am one. Roger W. Reisman USMC Sgt.

    • Retired Marine April 12, 2021 at 8:14 pm

      Home based is available to qualified veterans you have to meet criteria. If ou can leave home you are not home bound. I was home bound for a few years as soon as I could leave home I was sent right back to regular care no problem. I go between Syracuse and Albany because of spinal cord and the care is phenomenal. Calling you congressman and harassing them… Stop complaining you old goat! We get a lot of benefits as vets.

  6. James Tower April 11, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    I think this is a great plan my Dad would have loved it. James Tower.

  7. William Lueckel April 11, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    I am a WWII veteran, but I am fortunate in that I had sufficient financial resources to be able to be vaccinated outside of the VA. system, I hope no veteran will have to be denied vaccination for any reason.

    William Lueckel

  8. PaulaMinger April 11, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    YAY! They deserve all we can give

Comments are closed.

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