CONWAY — Joe Quarterman sits easy in his recliner as registered nurse Beth Yarnell checks his blood pressure and then puts her stethoscope to his lungs, heart and stomach to hear what's going on inside.
"That was Cream of Wheat you heard," he says as Yarnell withdraws the stethoscope from atop Quarterman's stomach. "It don't make much noise."
Quarterman, 77, can relax at home during Yarnell's regular visits because he is one of 25 veterans accepted into a new Home Based Primary Care program initiated earlier this year by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Quarterman, who lives alone outside Conway, suffered the first of three strokes last year and stopped driving then. He also has diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, making him a perfect candidate for the home-based care.
The program for this area began in May at the VA Clinic in Myrtle Beach but has recently moved to its own offices in Conway because the money to start it came from a rural initiatives grant and as such the office needed to be in a federally-defined rural area, said Carol Latus, coordinator of the office. While the office will primarily serve veterans in Horry County, some in Georgetown County and Brunswick County, N.C., will also be eligible for the care as the coverage area extends to a 50-mile radius from the office.
Some veterans in Quarterman's condition or worse would tend to stay at home and not see doctors at VA clinics because of the hassle of getting to appointments, Latus said.
As a result, conditions that might be easily managed through home care can worsen and require hospital care to get them back in line.
The program, Latus said, "has been proven to cut VA costs significantly because it cuts the number of hospital visits and trips to the ER."
The goal of the home care, she said, is to keep vets well. To that end, the program offers more than health care.
Once a vet has been accepted for home care, a social worker will visit to see if he or she has social or financial needs and to help find solutions for those needs.
The VA, for instance, has contracted for an aide to make regular trips to Quarterman's house to check on his well-being and help with chores he may need done.
Vets in the program further are evaluated by a physical therapist who may suggest that throw rugs be taken up or arrange for a walker or hospital bed, if either is needed. Eventually, the Conway office will have at least a part-time physician as well.
The home-based care program started in the Charleston area in 1994, and Latus was the first nurse hired.
That program now has 100 vets getting home-based care and a satellite office in Savannah, Ga. The first 25 patients in the Horry County program are concentrated in five areas so Yarnell won't have to drive great distances between appointments and will have more time for patients.
Latus said another 22 vets are on a waiting list, which will require another nurse to be hired to serve them.
Quarterman is recovering from his strokes and is sure that he will be able to drive again, eventually.
Not being able to drive, he said, has been "the hardest part of the whole works, I believe. That's your independence."
Even when he is able to pilot himself again, he doesn't foresee long trips or ones that could have him battling through traffic.
His daughter helps him all he will let her, he said, but he wants her to have her own life rather than one devoted to caring for him.
"She calls me at least twice a day," Quarterman said. "On her day off, she comes over here."
Latus said Quarterman is typical of what she's seen of many veterans in Horry County.
"What I've found in this area," she said, "is that it is so underserved, particularly in the rural areas.
"They're used to being pretty independent."
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.