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Perham Living now a VA-certified nursing home

Every day at about 2:30 in the afternoon, like clockwork, Margaret Huebsch visits her husband, James.

A resident of Briarwood assisted living in Perham, Margaret walks the short distance to Perham Living nursing home, where her beloved life partner of 67 years waits, looking forward to seeing her.

It’s a routine they are both accustomed to, and happy with.

But it wasn’t always possible.

Just a few years earlier, James, a nearly life-long resident of Perham who’s now 94, was trying to make it in a nursing home that was more than 20 miles away, in Battle Lake. He was well taken care of, but felt disconnected from his friends, family and community, and he didn’t get to see Margaret very often.

 According to one of his sons, Tom, James’ health quickly took a turn for the worse after the move out of town. He became depressed, and the family – namely James and Margaret’s nine kids – was worried.

They had only moved their father to Battle Lake because they felt like they had to: it was the closest nursing home that was certified by the Veterans Affairs office.

As a veteran of WWII with 80 percent hearing loss as a result of his service, James is eligible for VA nursing home care benefits, which saves the family several thousand dollars a month.

At the time, Perham Living was not a certified contracted nursing home with the VA; James was as welcome to stay there as any other patient, but he could not receive his VA benefits there, and the family would have to pay his expenses out of pocket.

It didn’t make sense to the kids. They knew their father would be happier in Perham – why should they have to send him to an out-of-town nursing home to receive the VA benefits he earned and deserves? Shouldn’t he be able to get those benefits in his own hometown?

Tom took those questions to the top. He went to Perham Living’s leaders and inquired about getting the facility VA certified. It turned out, the nursing home was more than willing to get the certification, it was simply that no one had ever asked for it before.

So began a three-year process of phone calls to the regional VA office in Fargo, N.D., site visits to Perham Living, lobbying to legislators, and enlisting some Perham community leaders to help move things along.

At first, Perham Living was denied the certification. The nursing home was told that there were already enough nursing homes with VA certification in the area. There was the home in Battle Lake, one in Fergus Falls, two in Detroit Lakes and another in Ottertail. If there was any change in this situation, Tom was told, Perham Living would be reconsidered.

Soon after, the Ottertail nursing home closed, and it seemed like this was Perham Living’s chance. However, again, the certification was denied. This time, Tom was told, Perham Living might be reconsidered if there were a show of community support for VA certification.

That’s when he and leaders at Perham Living, namely Katie Lundmark, the senior director of long-term care, reached out to the community for support. Family members, friends, health care employees and even Perham Rotarians got behind the cause, writing letters and making phone calls urging VA certification for Perham Living.

Finally, on June 30, Lundmark got the email she had been waiting and hoping for – the Fargo VA office approved Perham Living for a contract, effective July 1.

“It’s so exciting,” Lundmark said in an interview last week. “This was really special to us. It’s just such a touching thing to take care of veterans at the end period of their life. They deserve and earned this benefit, and now they can use it here.”

The contract is good for five years, and, as long as Perham Living continues to meet the VA’s requirements, will continue on for long after that, Lundmark said.

The certification will allow veterans who qualify for VA benefits – this includes any veteran with a 70 percent or more disability related to service – to receive those benefits while staying at Perham Living.

For veterans like James Huebsch, that means the world.

“Dad’s been in Perham most of his life,” Tom said. “It means a lot to stay home – to be home; not only when you’re living and working there, but when you’re retired.”

James moved to Perham when he was still a boy; Margaret grew up within a mile of him. They married after the war, and in 1947, he started Huebsch Woodcraft cabinet making company, where he worked until he retired at about the age of 70.

“When it started off, I was just pursuing it for my father,” Tom said of his efforts to get Perham Living VA certified. “It was personal. But by the end, it became an effort for all the eligible veterans in the Perham area... It wasn’t so much the money anymore; it was the fact that, if a veteran is eligible for this kind of care, by golly, they should get it in the home that they want.”

“My mother walks over to see my dad every single day, from Briarwood,” he added. “James looks at the clock every day and knows when she’s coming. She couldn’t do that if he were in Battle Lake. And they deserve that.”