For the first time in a long time, Elaine Tomlin of Philadelphia had a reason to smile -- and smile she did as she looked around at her new temporary home in Oakland.
She had just checked in Tuesday morning to the brand-new Fisher House -- even before the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the free "home away from home" for families of military members and veterans receiving treatment at the nearby Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
Her sister, Sharon Reavis of Philadelphia, who retired from the Air Force after 22 years, is in the hospital's intensive care unit after developing complications from a Nov. 19 liver transplant. But with her entry to Fisher House, Ms. Tomlin said, some of her worries had been eliminated -- she no longer has to pay for lodging or transportation to be near her sister.
Now, she's staying with people under similar circumstances in a comfortable, modern home only a five-minute walk from the University Drive facility.
"I am so thankful," she said. "This will relax some of the burden."
And that's exactly the reason for the Fisher House in Oakland and the 58 others operating in the United States and Germany, all located in proximity to major military and VA medical centers. The houses are constructed by the Maryland-based Fisher House Foundation and other contributors and then are given to the U.S. government as gifts. The VA now will take over maintenance of the Oakland house and will provide full-time managers to staff it around the clock.
The Oakland home, the first in Pennsylvania, can accommodate 10 families in its suites, each with a private bedroom and a handicapped-accessible bathroom. Families share a common kitchen, laundry facilities, dining room and a living room with a library and toys for children.
In addition to the Fisher House Foundation, construction was supported by the Department of Pennsylvania American Legion; Highmark Inc.; Alcoa Foundation; Bill O'Reilly and his viewers; the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund; Masco Corp.; and Newman's Own Foundation.
Even though the home wasn't officially dedicated until Tuesday morning, six families began living there Monday, said Michael Clark, the Oakland Fisher House manager. He has no doubt it will always be filled. He estimated that stays will range from one night to three days to even a year.
Kenneth Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation founded by his late uncle, said after presiding at the ribbon-cutting that it was "a great day. Any time we open a house it's a great day."
Most of the Fisher Houses built under a newer design have 12 suites but the Pittsburgh site couldn't accommodate a house that large, he said.
"But while it's a little smaller, I think the impact will be the same as the others."
It certainly impacted Ms. Tomlin.
"It's like a four-star hotel," she marveled. "It's amazing. I'm going to be able to sleep now. I'm so thankful Mr. Fisher has done something so great like this."
Michael A. Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1968.