By David Pittman –
For Families of Hospitalized Military & Veterans
It The 66th Fisher House – and first in Arizona – was built to house families of hospitalized military personnel and veterans. It was dedicated Feb. 18 at a grand opening celebration in Tucson.
The Arizona Fisher House, located on the campus of the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System on Tucson’s southside, was built on the premise that “a family’s love is good medicine.”
It provides a comforting, first-class “home away from home” at no cost to the families of military members and veterans being treated at the VA hospital or any other Tucson medical center who live more than 50 miles from the Old Pueblo.
“This is an amazing asset, not just for Arizonans, but also for veterans and their families who are referred here from other states,” said Jennifer Gutowski, acting director of SAVAHCS. “We are very thrilled to have the Arizona Fisher House on our campus.”
SAVAHCS is a major VA referral location for highly specialized medical and surgical services within Arizona and much of the western U.S. In 2014, more than 2,000 veterans living outside Tucson received hospital care there.
Ron Shoopman, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general who now serves as president and CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, said the fact that the Arizona Fisher House has located here “speaks to the quality of care provided at Tucson’s VA hospital.”
The Arizona Fisher House is the 66th such facility to open in the United States, Germany and England. Thirty-seven Fisher Houses are at VA hospital sites, while the 29 others are on the grounds of major military bases.
Since the first two Fisher Houses opened in 1991, the charitable program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $280 million in out-of-pocket costs for lodging and transportation. The national private, nonprofit Fisher House Foundation has an A+ rating from Charity Watch, formerly known as the American Institute of Philanthropy.
The 14,086-square-foot, two-story Arizona Fisher House is a Spanish-Mission-style design that contains 16 private suites, all of which are equipped with cable TV, DVDs and private bathrooms. The building, which can accommodate as many as 44 guests, also is completely handicapped accessible and features a large communal living area, kitchen, dining room, library and laundry facility, and is Wi-Fi accessible.
“I call it Starr Pass at the VA,” said Kelly Laurich, recently named manager of the Arizona Fisher House. Laurich formerly worked at SAVAHCS in the recreation department and the blind rehabilitation center.
The Arizona Fisher House is the product of a private-public partnership that involves the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Fisher House Foundation and the Tucson community. The effort behind building the facility began when SAVAHCS applied to be the host site for the Arizona Fisher House. That request was approved by U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki on July 11, 2011.
Construction of the Arizona Fisher House began in May 2015 and was completed at a cost of about $6 million, with the Friends of Arizona Fisher House Foundation raising about $2 million of the total. The balance of the building tab was paid through a gift from the national Fisher House Foundation. Once the structure was completed, the Fisher House Foundation turned it over to the VA to operate.
Laurich said the location of the Arizona Fisher House is a great convenience for the families of patients at SAVAHCS.
“Because it is right here on our campus, if something happens to one of their loved ones who are hospitalized here, they can throw on their clothes and be out the door and in that hospital room in seconds,” she said.
Rick Grinnell, vice chair of the Arizona Fisher House fundraising committee and a Vietnam-era U.S. Navy veteran, knows firsthand the difference between being alone in recovery and having family there to provide support.
“My dad wouldn’t let me get away with feeling sorry for myself about the pain of rehab and put his well-intentioned hand upside my head once,” Grinnell said. “No one else could have gotten away with that – but that’s exactly what I needed at that point of recovery. I knew then I was going to be OK.”