Ninth in a series
Zip 33573 is a tale of two cities — the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Although both cities go by the same name, they are polar opposites. Although they have the same demographics — white, elderly, middle class — they are distinctly different.
The “haves” in 33573 are the beautiful people, the ones you see pictured on the Internet sites and glossy promo brochures. Playing pickleball, dancing, attending the theater, laughing with friends, enjoying the healthy, over-55 lifestyle. As Jackie Gleason used to say, “How sweet it is!”
The “have-nots” are people who have lost their health. The activities of daily living — walking, cooking, cleaning, driving, remembering to pay the bills — are challenging without a helping hand. While the haves enjoy an active lifestyle, the have-nots are found behind closed doors — the silent minority, the forgotten ones.
Until I found my neighbor Mo lying in our condo parking lot, I was oblivious to the needs of the have-nots. Since I became Mo’s caregiver and began writing the Safe at Home series for this newspaper, my eyes have been opened — first to the influence and reach of The Observer News and then by the number of elderly-in-need.
Jack, 86, widower, with children who couldn’t care less and with rapidly declining health, fits the pattern. I sat in his messy, dirty home and he told me how he would rather die than go to an institution. And he will if he fails to get help soon. He collapsed last month trying to get out of his wheelchair. He took the wrong meds and became dizzy. He fixes TV dinners in the microwave and has a hot plate on the kitchen floor.
Although Jack owns his spacious 2 BR/BA home and his late-model car free and clear, he has a meager $2,000 in his checking account. His monthly income of $2,400 gives him a discretionary income of about $500-$600 per month. Despite his doctor’s warning, he still drives and gets out to the store and pool weekly. Jack understands he is teetering on the edge.
“You are my last hope,” he told me with tears.
Together we placed a call to the Senior Connection, a quasi-government resource center. That was three weeks ago. This week Jack begins receiving in-home care from the county for a copay of only $59 per month. That co-pay covers about $800 per month of homemaker services until Medicaid finishes processing his application in several months. We are hopeful Medicaid will authorize more than the 10 hours of help offered by the county, which is a temporary plug in a leaky dam.
Meanwhile, my man Mo is getting closer to securing VA benefits of up to $1,788 per month. We have been delayed because the mandatory physical exam revealed Mo has moderate dementia. The VA will not send payments to Mo until he names a power of attorney. The task has been slowed because of Mo’s reluctance to give up control of his finances.
Applying for VA benefits is a complicated and a torturous path on the first journey. One mistake could cause the application to be thrown into the “incomplete” pile and a trip to the back of the line. Instead of three months for a final decision, it could be a year or more. Realizing this, I convinced Mo to hire Elder Care Resources, a California company that specializes in streamling the process and getting it right the first time.
Fortunately, Mo is happy, safe and much healthier than six months ago.
Like Jack, he came dangerously close to falling between the cracks.
The common thread between them and many others is lack of family help, dwindling finances and declining health.
For me, I have gained two precious friends and the fulfillment of helping two have-nots to a better quality of life in their last years.
Jimmy Curtis is registered to provide homemaker and companion services with the State of Florida, Agency for Health Care Administration. He can be reached at email@example.com or 813-331-3471.