Member stories / Be Yourself / Moved By Good

Lake Trust Member Highlight: Mike, A Silent Hero

Words by Abbie Dyer on Apr 13, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Sometimes we don't find our calling in life, it finds us when we least expect it. A few years ago, Michael (Mike) was faced with a tough decision: Put his aging mother in a traditional nursing home or find an alternative. His solution not only provided comfort to his mother, but it opened his eyes to a greater problem in our country.

Set back in the woods sits a cozy, ranch-style house surrounded by trees and frequently visited by wildlife. Inside, a small group of elderly veterans sits around a table playing dominos. This is the home of Mike, a Lake Trust member.

Finding His Calling

As an Army veteran and the owner of a small print shop, Mike never pictured himself as a caregiver. But in 2007, his mother developed Alzheimer's disease. Instead of placing her in a traditional nursing home, Mike decided it would be best if he took care of her. He built a house next to his own for his mother to live in, but sadly she passed away a year later. Through the experience of caring for his mother, Mike realized that there is a great need for elderly people to have an advocate.

"No one plans to be in a situation where you can't take care of yourself," Mike said.

His newly constructed home was already equipped for the needs of a senior occupant, so Mike contacted the Veterans Affairs (VA) Ann Arbor Healthcare System about the possibility of opening a medical foster home.

Our Changing Lifestyles

Soon after, Mike bought a larger home and hired a small staff for his VA medical foster home. At one-third of the cost of a regular nursing home, plus a one-to-three ratio of caregivers to residents, his venture is an appealing alternative.

The need for elderly care is fairly new in the United States and is a result, Mike believes, of our changing lifestyles.

"There shouldn't be a need for what I do, in my mind anyway. If you got older your grandparents, or uncle or whatever, they just came and lived with you. You didn't give it a second thought," Mike explained. "But now with our lifestyles, two incomes and everything else, it's just not feasible [to take care of a parent full time] like it used to be."

Between our busy schedules with work and family, many people do not have the time to dedicate to caring for their aging parents. Most people place their relatives in traditional nursing homes, believing there is no other alternative.

Seeking Out the Story

Since only a handful of residents live in a medical foster home, they receive more personalized attention. And with this attention and interaction comes a handful of remarkable stories, something Mike fears is being lost as the older generations are shuffled into traditional care facilities.

"Everyone has a story, but these people are getting to an age where they can't tell them [their stories] or you have to pull it out of them," says Mike. He goes on to explain that no one will hear these stories if people do not take the time to seek out and discuss the past with our nation's elders.

"People want to be remembered."

And this is one of the most difficult aspects of Mike's job. He says that it's hard to make families understand how important it is to visit and keep in touch.

Looking to the Future

Mike's plans for the future don't stop with the care of his residents. One day he hopes to see a large network of similar VA medical foster homes that have the same level of care that his homes operate. He wants to help people navigate through the paperwork of getting their own foster home started. With enough connections, he thinks that the project can expand even further. 

A connection of VA medical foster homes could provide jobs in home repair, landscaping and medical care for current veterans, Mike believes. These job skills could help veterans build their resumes or give them the confidence to start their own businesses. 

In the interim, Mike is trying to organize a trip to Washington D.C. this summer for his residents. He hopes to take them on a tour of the White House.

"The best part of my job is just being there for people." And being there to preserve the dignity and grace of our nation's silent heroes is what Mike does best.  

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