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NEWS | Jan. 24, 2014

A home away from home: Portsmouth Fisher House

By Senior Airman Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Being in a hospital dealing with a terminal illness or recovering from a major surgery can be an emotional and frightening time.  Zachary Fisher first established the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Services Foundation in 1983 to boost the spirits of patients by providing families of military members and individuals cared for by the Department of Veterans Affairs the opportunity to be near loved ones during their stays at a military treatment facility.

The Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Fisher House is one of more than 60 houses donated to the government by the Fisher House Foundation, which are designed to care for the families of patients who may be injured, wounded, sick or terminally ill while in medical treatment facilities.  The foundation provides grants to families, allowing them to stay in a "home-away-from-home" near the treatment center.

"Family speeds the healing process," said Jill Thompson, Portsmouth Fisher House manager.  "We are here to embrace the families while they assist the healing of the patient. Everyone in the house becomes a family to support, to talk with and be there for one another."

To be accepted into a Fisher House, the patient must have a referral prepared either by a physician, nurse, Chaplain, social worker, the American Red Cross, a case manager or patient administration.

The eligibility requirements are used to determine if the Fisher House will be able to assist a family.  The Service member must be an inpatient at a nearby medical treatment facility and have a serious condition, such as cancer, require surgeries or diagnosed with a terminal illness at the time of the family's check-in.  Also, the family's residence must be at least 40 miles away from the hospital or treatment facility, and the families are required to stay for a minimum of three days.

"Junior enlisted personnel without financial assistance will have priority over senior enlisted," said Thompson.  "Active duty and combat-related injuries will also have priority over other requesting referrals."

The Portsmouth Fisher House has six rooms that can accommodate six people per room and one suite that is a handicap accessible room for five people.  Additionally, the house is equipped with a full kitchen, dining room, laundry room and seating area.

"I've had people walk in the door and break into tears because they were already emotional and didn't have the energy to prepare a meal," said Thompson.  "They get tired of eating at the galley or at McDonalds and they walk in and see a meal prepared or donated; it makes all the difference in the world."

The Portsmouth Fisher House is always in need of volunteers, whether preparing meals, donating money, time or items.  Volunteers should not be discouraged from helping if they don't have access to the base, as Thompson will coordinate with base security.

The Fisher House Foundation operates other helpful programs such as the Hero Miles program, which donates frequent-flyer miles for family members to be closer to an injured service member, and the Hotels for Heroes program, which donates hotel points for families to stay at hotels near medical centers free of charge.

"The house, volunteers, and donations are really what makes this a home away from home," said Jill.  "I'm honored to be here and care for the families as they care for their loved ones."

For more information or to help volunteer contact Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Fisher House manager Jill Thompson at 953-6889.