Support Long-Term Care Reform

The problems with long-term care in this country became strikingly evident to me as I witnessed both my own and my wife’s parents suffer not only from chronic illnesses and other end-of-life issues, but also from a woefully inadequate system of care. We had to deal with an ineffective, fragmented healthcare system that provided expensive, duplicate, and often unnecessary services.  We were confronted as well with the nightmare of warehousing our loved ones into facilities that were more concerned with their “bottom line” than human dignity.

What I saw through my parents’ eyes and what I am learning through my interactions with the elderly for whom I advocate is that we have become a mean, uncaring society that has turned its back on its most vulnerable citizens. Many elderly Americans would like to live their remaining years independently, at home. They should not be forced to get more costly care in a nursing home. In order for this to happen, federal law must be changed to make it easier for states to provide older Americans access to home and community-based services.

As healthcare reform becomes a reality, the care of the frail and elderly must be addressed. The fastest growing segment of the population is that over the age of 85. How are we going to make their final years safe and comfortable? Currently, 80% of seniors are living with relatives, which place a tremendous psychological and financial burden on families. How are we going to support and supplement the care provided by unpaid caregivers? An estimated 700,000 elderly adults in this country lack proper shelter, clothing and food. How are we going to ensure these most vulnerable individuals receive the most basic necessities of life?

When I talk about these issues with people in my community, one thing I try to do is to reframe the debate. Folks must learn that we’re all in this together; serious illness and dying is the great equalizer. It doesn’t distinguish between the rich and poor, or the educated and uneducated. To bring this message forward, people must understand that all of us are dependent on someone from the time we’re born until the time we die. For example, we couldn’t get to work unless someone built the automobiles and highways to drive them on. Dependence on one another is the human condition. I urge all of you to write your Representatives and tell them how you feel about care for the elderly. We are all in this together!

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