SALT LAKE CITY — Every month, Leah Boehs and her young son Hayden make the journey from the Uinta Basin to Salt Lake City to accompany her husband, Derrick Boehs, a U.S. Navy veteran, to the George E. Wahlen Veterans Administration Medical Center for medical treatment and dental care.
Considering how often the family makes the trip and how they frequently have to stay for days at a time, they consider themselves lucky they don't have to shell out lots of money for lodging and food thanks a charitable foundation that helps scores of people just like them across the country.
"You have a place to stay, the room is nice and cozy," said Leah Boehs, 41, of Vernal.
This month, the Fisher House in Salt Lake City is commemorating seven years of serving veterans and their families from the region and around the world, according to a news release. Originally established by New York real estate investor and philanthropist Zachary Fisher and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1990, the Fisher House Foundation today operates a network of over 80 homes where families of veterans can stay free of charge while a loved one receives medical treatment. The facilities are located at major U.S. military and Veterans Administration medical centers nationwide.
"It would be a huge expense for us if Fisher House wasn't here for us," Leah Boehs said. "We've lived in a lot of places and used the VA in a lot of places. This is the first place where we've had a Fisher House and it is a huge relief."
The facilities provide families of veterans a place to stay on the campus of the local Veterans Administration hospital, explained Quinn Kiger-Good, Salt Lake City Fisher House manager.
Boehs said being at the facility for extended periods has allowed her to develop bonds with some of the other families who also utilize the facility regularly.
"The kitchen is where we meet people," she said. "I get to meet other veterans and get to talk to veterans' wives. We hear each others' stories and support each other. It's really nice."
The 16,800-square-foot home includes 20 suites, each with private bedrooms and bathrooms. The houses also have common areas that promote interaction between the families, Kiger-Good said.
She added that Fisher House is meant to be more than a place to stay. The facility is a home away from home for residents, she said.
"As long as they are coming with families, they are eligible to stay here," Kiger-Good said.
Speaking at the open house Tuesday, she recalled the story of a rural Colorado woman who was in her 70s and had never been to Salt Lake City. "She was scared to death," Kiger-Good said.
The woman was staying at the Fisher House recently while her husband was being treated at the medical center. She was at his bedside when he passed away. Distraught by the loss and otherwise alone, she reached out to another spouse whom she befriended during her stay, she explained.
"That lady went around and knocked on everybody's bedroom door," Kiger-Good said. "They had every family member wait for her at the front door."
The families staying in the house and the staff were there to comfort and console her, she added.
"When she walked in, there were 20 families there to embrace her, That's what this home is all about," Kiger-Good said. "The families become family. A lot of healing happens here."
The longest visit at the Fisher House was nine months by a 30-year-old Nevada veteran and his parents who stayed while the son battled brain cancer, she said. The visitor who came the farthest was a veteran from the Dominican Republic who underwent heart surgery, she said.Comment on this story
While constructed through the charitable foundation, the facility is maintained heavily through community donations and volunteer support, Kiger-Good explained.
"Everything that we have in the house is donated by the community," she said. "All the food items, all the toiletries — everything we can give to (the visitors)."
She said some community groups come in to cook meals and offer services to help the families. For more information about the facility, visit fisherhousesaltlakecity.com.