AVON - An 85-year-old veteran in Avon was recently able to return to his home from a nursing facility after having his leg amputated, thanks to a state initiative.

Ernie Opatz is one of more than 2,200 Minnesotans who have left nursing homes thanks to the Return to Community initiative.

After several months of planning and wheelchair home modifications, Ernie returned to Avon last December. He credits his family and wife and says none of it would be possible without their support.

"All of my children were really nice and helpful with this. My wife-without her I couldn't be at home, she's done all the bookwork and took care of the money and cooking."

Ernie Opatz sits down with family and Lucinda Jesson. (Dan DeBaun, WJON)
Ernie Opatz sits down with family and Lucinda Jesson. (Dan DeBaun, WJON)

When a community living specialist visited Opatz at an Albany nursing home last year after his amputation, he was depressed and said he didn't think he would have a chance to ever return home.

"When I first got there to Albany-I thought I lost my home, my family and everything," Opatz says.

After several months of planning, meetings with a county veterans service officer, and home modifications due to his wheelchair, he was able to be released in August.

Opatz says it's great to be back at home and that his prosthetic leg helps him move around the house.

"I can go down into the basement now with this leg, I can go outside, it's just a great feeling."

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson visited the couple on Tuesday to highlight the return to community initiative.

Under the initiative, senior living specialists contact people who are using their own money to pay for nursing home care and offer to help plan for discharge to their home or another community setting. Specialists stay in touch for up to five years to offer continued support.