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Patients Re-Learn Basic Living Skills at VA’s MyHome

Woman with a walker puts clothes in a washer with the help of a therapist

Laurel Koval, an occupational therapist at the Pittsburgh VA, gives Veteran Gloria Stephenson clothes washing tips in MyHome’s laundry room. Photo by William George, Pittsburgh VA Medical Center

by Tom Cramer, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, August 29, 2013

The folks at the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh have figured out a unique way to help wounded Veterans transition successfully from their hospital bed to their own bed at home — something that’s not so easy when you’re visually impaired, in a wheelchair or using a walker to get around.

“We call it ‘MyHome,’ said Laurel Koval, an occupational therapist at the medical center. “It’s where we enable Veterans to feel more confident in performing daily tasks and thus more ready to go home.”

Fasten Your Seatbelt

Koval said MyHome, located within the Pittsburgh VA’s H.J. Heinz Campus in O’Hara, Pa., contains a living room, dining room, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, staircase, a laundry area and a pantry stocked with food.

“We even have a garage with a car parked it,” she said. “Our physical and occupational therapists can teach you how to get in and out of your car safely, fasten your seatbelt or how to unload your groceries from the trunk.”

You can also learn how to do your laundry, prepare a meal, make your bed, take a shower or even answer the front door — safely.

 …re-learning basic life skills in a home-like setting…makes you want to get back in your own home… 
— Jason Fay, rehabilitation supervisor, Pittsburgh VA

Get Out the Good Silverware

“They take a lot of pride in keeping the place neat and clean,” Koval said. “It surprised me. They’ll complete a therapy task — like doing the dishes — but before going on to the next task in some other part of the house they’ll actually spend some time cleaning the kitchen sink and the counter, just like they might do in their own home. They want the place to look good. One day I actually saw a patient polishing the silverware…”

Rehabilitation Director Derek Coughenour said a big benefit of MyHome is that it can reduce the number of hospital re-admisisons.

“In most cases, patients get discharged from the hospital and go home,” Coughenour said. “But sometime they’ll have an accident and find themselves right back in the hospital. These setbacks are very frustrating and, in many cases, avoidable with proper training. As a result of real-life practice in MyHome, Veterans are better equipped with the tools they need to succeed in their home.”

The ‘I’m Home’ Effect

Rehabilitation Supervisor Jason Fay said MyHome has succeeded in almost completely removing the clinical aspect of rehabilitation and replacing it with a comforting ‘I’m at home’ feeling that gives patients a powerful psychological boost.

“When you’re re-learning basic life skills in a home-like setting, it makes you want to get back in your own home that much faster,” he said “It’s a big motivator.”

“A newspaper gets delivered here every morning. We also have different types of floor surfaces in here: linoleum, tile, carpet…a little bit of everything. When you’re in a wheelchair or using a walker, these different surfaces can be challenging, especially when you’re going from one surface to another. When you teach people how to negotiate little things like this,” he added, “it makes a big difference in their ability to be self sufficient. It’s all about practice, practice, practice. Continuous practice is a confidence builder.”

David Cord, VA Pittsburgh’s deputy director, said he believes MyHome may be the very first full-scale simulation home situated within a VA Community Living Center.

“We’re the first, but certainly not the last,” he said. “This is a major innovation in how we deliver health care for Veterans, and I expect other VA medical centers will be adopting the MyHome concept. It’s just one more way VA is delivering the right care to our Veterans at the right place, and at the right time.”