Tag Archives: assisted living

In a liberal pocket, assisted living residents fear Obamacare’s death

From an upscale assisted living center in Seattle, 87-year-old Brendan Wall has some advice for members of Congress eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Slow down.

“They haven’t said what they’re going to replace it with or how they’re going to replace it,” said Wall, who taught philosophy and religion for more than 30 years.

“I think it’s a major crisis, and I hope to God they take enough time to think about it and act on it so that the thing will work.”

Wall lives at Merrill Gardens, a complex near downtown Seattle where anxiety runs high over the transition to a new administration in Washington, D.C. And while the evolving drama may not affect him directly, he and other seniors here fret about the Donald Trump administration’s vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for their children and grandchildren.

Wall and five other residents responded to a Kaiser Health News request for area seniors willing to share their views about health care as Trump takes over and pressure mounts on Capitol Hill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In a news conference, Trump again called the health law “a complete and total disaster,” and said he intends to move quickly to replace it with something “far less expensive and far better,” though he offered no specifics.

The view from Merrill Gardens offers a snapshot of a larger national debate about the successes and failures of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. Its residents live in liberal King County, where less than 22 percent of voters chose Trump. But only 125 miles away, in a rural district that voted for Trump, Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler says seniors’ anxieties over repeal of the Affordable Care Act are misplaced.

“Seniors are right to be concerned about the future of ACA, but not because of congressional Republicans’ plans,” spokeswoman Amy Pennington said in an email. “The law’s fundamental flaws, phony finances and broken promises will cause it to collapse on its own — Medicaid expansion, exchanges and all.”

At Merrill Gardens, residents are more politically engaged than in many parts of the country. They avidly follow the news through local newspapers, TV, the internet and radio.

The group that showed up for an open meeting in the complex’s private dining room ranged in age from early 70s to late-80s. They included retired education, business and health professionals. Loree Wagner, a center spokeswoman, said the organizers did not ask for political affiliation.

“I find this moment especially challenging,” said Dick Kirkendall, 88, a retired University of Washington history professor who specialized in the presidency of Harry S. Truman. “I have a hard time seeing what’s ahead, a harder time than I’ve ever had. I have a harder time knowing what my president is going to do.”

Everyone in the room said they had few complaints about their existing health insurance coverage through Medicare, Medicare supplements, private pensions and Veterans Affairs programs.

But they said they fear that proposed changes — including plans to privatize Medicare and revamp Medicaid and Social Security — will mean less care for their families and the poor.

“My opinion is not to touch Medicare or Medicaid,” said Terry Doucette, 76, a former admitting department manager for a local hospital. “I mean, people are dependent upon it and there needs to be a warning time and coming together in a real thoughtful way, making everything work together, especially for the least fortunate.”

Herrera Beutler said she supports plans to protect Medicare and Social Security for seniors in the future.

In addition to Wall, Kirkendall and Doucette, the group included John Ball, 73, a former developer, Sandra Wiatr, 80, a former school nurse in the Chicago public school system and Dr. Harold Ellner, 89, a retired urologist.

Overall, they sympathized with the frustrations of those who criticized the ACA, which created online health exchanges that expanded coverage to millions, but also saw sharp rises in costs and, in some cases, limited coverage choices.

“The Obama thing had been moving out of control, particularly for middle-class people whose insurance premiums have gone up and their deductibles are unbelievable,” Wall said. “They’re out of this world. I think they had to do something.”

But they also echoed the views of a recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll that found that while one in five Americans support repeal alone, three-quarters either oppose repeal entirely or want to wait until details of a replacement plan are complete. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The answer is not to scrap the plan that expanded insurance to 20 million people while offering no alternative, said Ball, who only obtained regular insurance when he qualified for Medicare eight years ago. He still lives with consequences of untreated injuries, including a broken clavicle that healed badly after a rugby injury years ago.

“I’m distressed at the proposal that we chuck out the baby with the bath water,” he said. “I’ve seen the backside of no insurance and living with something you hoped wouldn’t be considered a pre-existing condition. I have a pretty strong identification with those people who didn’t have insurance and were suddenly brought into the fold of Obamacare.”

In her work as a school nurse, Wiatr saw many students with asthma whose families couldn’t afford medication inhalers to control the potentially life-threatening disease. When she managed a family practice clinic, she saw people try to cut medical costs at the expense of health.

“There were people who didn’t do lab tests, who took only half of their medication because they couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I am very upset because I think our politicians don’t have a clue how difficult it is for people to receive medication and adequate health care.”

Ellner, the urologist, worked for a local Planned Parenthood clinic after he retired and flatly said he supports a universal, single-payer health system.

“Obamacare seems to have been a way station on the way to universal health care and now it’s not only being challenged, it’s being threatened,” he said.

The situation now calls for compromise and compassion from political leaders, said Doucette. “What I want to do is simply get the hard-headed guys from both parties to meet and really want to do this instead of wanting to win,” she said. “Now, we’ll see what Trump does. He has all these ideas and he thinks everyone else is on a lower level. I would like to see them work together.”

KHN’s coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.  This report is made available by Kaiser Health News under a Creative Commons License.

St. John’s on the Lake makes room for residents’ furry friends

Anyone who’s ever had an animal companion knows just how much joy they bring. Our companion animals play an important and irreplaceable role in our lifestyles and emotions. They help to guide us through life’s many struggles and have been proven beneficial to our health and happiness. 

One challenge we all face is aging, particularly when the time comes to move into a retirement community. It’s a hard choice to leave one home for another, and many seniors must face the decision of whether to take a beloved furry friend with them. 

During such transitional times, having the love and support of a cherished pet can make more of a difference than ever. Just ask the resident pet owners who live at St. John’s on the Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. There, pets are welcomed with open hearts.

“Your pet sort of becomes everyone’s pet,” says resident pet owner Jack Ford, his curly coated tan pup Casper sitting beside him.

Residents walk freely through the halls with their dogs, take them outside to the outdoor doggie run, and socialize together at pet-themed events. 

“When I walk down the hall, usually people say, ‘Hi, Dexter,’” says Bill Lau, referring to his dog. “They say ‘hello’ to him before they even say ‘hello’ to me!” 

The cat owners also have their special place. One resident walks her sleek black cat Samantha in a lovely red harness during what would regularly be the dog hours.

For cat owner Mary McAndrews, whose cats all have been named after mystery authors, the decision to adopt Josephine was prompted by the hard choice the cat’s former “parent” had to face: Leave Josephine behind with a social worker when she entered senior living.

“Josephine was 8 years old,” explains McAndrews, “and the story that we heard was that she was brought in by a social worker. Her previous owner had two cats and was going into a senior facility that only allowed for her to keep one.” 

To celebrate the bonds between St. John’s residents and their pets, Lau conceived of a touching photography exhibit called the Pet Project. Resident photographers Dan Patrinos, Art Beaudry and Jim Ballard photographed 10 dogs, 14 cats and their owners in their homes at St. John’s. The display of black-and-white photographs features candid shots, portraits and group photographs of residents with their pets.

On a special side display titled Remembrance, photographs of pets who have passed are also included. This touching project is on display at St. John’s until mid-November and is free and open to the public.

The warmth that shines through each photograph evidences the power of pet companionship and the quality of life it adds to the residents and staff at St. John’s on the Lake. The photographs underscore the family atmosphere that St. John’s strives to create for everyone, including those for whom no family would be complete without an occasional “woof!” or “meow.”

Friend: Harper Lee was fine the day before sequel announced

A longtime friend who visited “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee the day before the world learned she would release a sequel says she was feisty but didn’t mention her new book.

Historian Wayne Flynt, a friend of the famous author, said he believes Lee was capable of giving permission for the previously unpublished manuscript to be released.

“This narrative of senility, exploitation of this helpless little old lady is just hogwash. It’s just complete bunk,” Flynt said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Flynt visited with Lee last week at the assisted-living facility where she lives in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. That was the day before a division of HarperCollins Publishers announced the publication of “Go Set a Watchman.” The publisher said Tonja Carter, an attorney who practiced with Lee’s sister, found the manuscript, which will be released in July as a sequel to the beloved novel.

She did not mention the “Mockingbird” sequel that was about to make international news during the visit, Flynt said.

However, he said he believes Lee might have planned to tell him about her new novel, but didn’t get the chance because he monopolized the first part of the conversation by showing her that “To Kill A Mockingbird” was still on the best-seller list more than 50 years after its first publication.

She was “deeply touched” and surprised by that fact, he said. They then talked about their families.

Flynt said Lee is capable of giving consent, although he acknowledges he doesn’t know what the consent looked like. Lee is hard of hearing and uses a magnifying machine to enlarge print so she can read.

“I don’t know whether it was, ‘Nelle, you need to do this,’ or ‘Nelle, what do you think?’ or ‘Nelle, sign this because it’s going to be financially wonderful for you.’”

“No one is ever going to know — no reporter, not me, what was said in that room,” Flynt said. He added, however, that he had no reason to doubt Carter’s integrity.

Lee is severely hard of hearing, which is why some people likely think that she is cognitively impaired.

“She’s 88 years old,” Flynt said. “She has a profound hearing problem. You have to get right next to her right ear and shout. You may have to shout it three or four times.”

For example, he said, during a January visit, he saw that she was reading a collection of works by C.S. Lewis and asked her about him.

“Bluish, who’s bluish?” came the reply. After, a couple of tries, Lee was able to hear him. “Oh, C.S. Lewis, the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century,” she replied and then rattled off the names of his books.

“‘The Screwtape Letters.’ I love it,” Lee said of the satirical novel that chronicles a veteran demon’s attempts to tutor a protege in the art of tempting humans.  Flynt said he also once gave her a tape of Monty Python actor John Cleese narrating “The Screwtape Letters.”

“She roared,” Flynt said.