A home away from home for veterans seeking medical care
Just across the street from the Reno Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, the Veterans Guest House opens its doors to anyone with military affiliation in town seeking treatment. CEO Sylvia Froslie said she likes being next to but independent from the VA. It affords them flexibility in who they can serve.
“We don’t care about characterization of discharge or what provider you’re choosing to see,” said Froslie. “As long as you are here for medical care and somehow military affiliated, it’s good.”
76 year-old Kelly Powers comes to the guest house once a month with his wife, Renae. In 1966 he was drafted into the Army.
“I hated every minute of it,” Kelly said. “But they told me when we got drafted, they said, ‘You'll have medical for life.’ And I didn't want it. But I tell ya, when I got 50, I needed it.”
When Kelly was 50, he had a serious bladder infection and was admitted to the VA Medical Center in Reno, but Renae couldn’t stay with him. Without fresh clothes or a place to stay, VA staff told her about the guest house. Renae said it was comforting to have a place nearby to stay so she didn’t have to drive in the city and find a motel.
The Veterans Guest House started when Chuck Fulkerson and Dick Rhyno, two Reno veterans, noticed that families of those receiving care at the VA were sleeping in cars because they didn’t know anyone in the area and couldn’t afford a hotel.
Under the best circumstances, the VA does provide free medical care to qualifying veterans. But for those coming from rural areas who need weeks or months of treatment, the care is just part of the cost. The guest house aims to solve that by taking care of the other expenses.
“We like to fill in where the government leaves off,” Froslie said.”Which is how our whole organization began.”
A big obstacle for veterans who live alone and travel to Reno for care, is when they have a procedure that requires anesthesia. Providers will not schedule those appointments until someone is signed up to escort them. To solve that problem, the guest house contracted with Amada Senior Care to bring on a personal care assistant, Dyana Parks.
Parks is at the guest house from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, helping guests with everything from making coffee to taking them to appointments. But a big part of what she provides is companionship.
Since Renae’s visit in the late ’90s, the guest house has expanded its operation dramatically, from five beds to more than 30.
While the building has grown, Froslie said they have been very intentional in keeping a home-like atmosphere. Across from the main dining area are couches covered with red, white and blue quilts and underneath the living room TV are stacks of board games and puzzles.
Everything the guest house has comes from the community — It doesn’t receive any government funding. Along with monetary support from donors, a variety of charities bring in clothes and food, which are provided to guests free of charge. Some veterans, who could afford to stay in a hotel but like the community at the guest house, leave donations when they stay.
Michael Bigelow is a Navy veteran who lives in Gardnerville. He is staying at the guest house while doing pulmonary rehabilitation at a Renown Health clinic in south Reno. He said he was impressed with the way the Reno community comes together to support the house.
“One of the nights I saw truckload after truckload of food coming in,” Bigelow said. “There were literally seven or eight cars. And I was just very thankful.”
Some people who are going through long and difficult treatments stay at the guest house for months. Parks said it’s hard to say goodbye to those guests.
“I get teary-eyed with some of them,” she said. “But I know that when they go home, they're healthy, they're better. They got the treatment they needed. I'll miss them, but I’ll see them. They come back.”