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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Create system so seniors can live where they want

I remember mother sitting beside me in so many different hospitals while I waited for the gurney to come take me for another operation.

She was devoted and, although she was very nervous about what was about to happen to her first-born, she did her best to cheer me up.
“I love you and I'll be here when you get back” she’d say.

“Thanks, mother," I'd answer and when I came out of the operating room she was the first face I'd look for.
Now, she is 97 going to turn 98 and all she wants to do is spend the rest of her days in her own apartment, but it just might take a miracle to make it so.
We – my wife and two sisters – have hired five very skilled and good-hearted women to take care of mother from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. seven days a week, leaving her alone at night because mother or her children just can’t afford to pay more than the $1,000 a week it is now costing for caregivers as mother's health deteriorates.
Mother is not the dynamic non-stop redhead she was when we were children.

She has thinning gray hair now, can’t feel below her knees because of diabetes, is barely more than 100 pounds, and sometimes forgets what day it is or who she is talking to on the telephone.
Her television is so loud in her senior apartment in Macomb County that it can be heard when someone walks into the first floor of the Utica complex.

Mother also fears the future and would rather die than be placed into a nursing home..
She is on the list for the Mi Choice Medicaid Waiver, but there is a one-year wait to receive help and her money will be gone by then. She likely and sadly faces the reality of ending her life in a Medicaid-Medicare nursing home.

There is no federal or state program that provides 24/7 in-home care for seniors who need help or are disabled.
This is a tragedy, but there is a better way. I hope this idea reaches lawmakers, the statewide mental health leaders, and those who pull the levers of power.

Why can’t nonprofits be set up to provide in-home care for seniors like my mother Carol? It is tragic to see a lifetime of pinching pennies go down the tubes paying for private caregivers or giving at least $7,000 a month to be in a nursing home where, generally, service is not good unless family visits daily.
The first of the 76 million Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1964 are in their mid-60s. If society doesn’t put systems in place like they have for disabled people who used to live in institutions in Michigan, it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually to house them in nursing homes.

By creating a system where seniors can live in their own apartments or homes or in a group home and have caregivers as needed will save two-thirds at least of those billions spent on nursing homes and, most importantly, improve the quality of life of seniors. It also will create thousands of jobs for those seeking work during this "Great Recession."
It will cost about $2,300 a month in today’s dollars to provide around-the-clock care for three seniors in a group home instead of the $21,000 currently paid, an expert says.
The paradigm works. The Macomb-Oakland Regional Center created it during the past 40 years as it moved all 13,000 people with disabilities out of institutions into group homes, their own apartments or their own home.

Let’s honor our seniors and those who picked up the torch from the Greatest Generation and let them spend their final days where they belong and not in a lonely room with a bed or two and nothing to do except stare out a window and remember the days when life was sweet and full of love and hope.
Jerry Wolffe, the Disability Rights Advocate at Large/Writer in Residence at MORC Inc., can be reached at 586 263 8950.