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.