Another 9-11

Cold Stream Pond

It’s Sept. 11, 2020. We have a liar and authoritarian wannabe in the White House. Nearly 200,00 have died from a pandemic. Climate change has caused devastating fires in California, Oregon and Washington. Cars line up outside the local elementary school for free food every weekend. Millions of my fellow Americans are out of work. I wrote this piece exactly a year ago.

Dad called me out of class. He said that that I was to leave my boarding school outside Boston if I got another call. He said steal a car if I had to and meet him at Cold Stream Pond. It was October 24, 1962. 

Well, I did not get a second call, but I was ready to hot wire my French teacher’s Renault and drive to Maine if I had to. It turns out that Cold Stream Pond is in Lincoln and the town is 150 miles from what was then Loring Air Force Base. The base was a likely target of Soviet missiles and was closed during the Bush administration to deal with the deficit or something.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001. My wife and I were both working at home. I didn’t feel well or else I would have been in my office in Southwest DC. There was an emergency alert on NPR so we both sat down in front of the TV.  As the second plane hit, I couldn’t help but think that whoever did this had just struck near my boyhood home. Then, another plane slammed into the Pentagon.

The CEO of the nonprofit where I worked left his car in the garage at Federal Center South that afternoon and walked home over the 14th Street bridge to his home in Arlington. He said he could see the smoke billowing from the Pentagon on the way home. I guess I might have had a difficult time walking back to Reston as trains had been stopped temporarily because of what had just happened on top of the Pentagon station. 

Both our children were in school and presumably safe although NBC said there was still a plane in the air. Cell phones for teens were not yet common so we were not sure they were going to be safe, another source of concern. I know the memory 9-11 has made them and an entire generation less certain that the homeland is safe. I thought then that maybe I should pack the car and drive to Lincoln, Maine.

Why Affordable Housing for Seniors?

Every day 10,000 adults turn 65 in the United States. Federal programs that subsidized the building of new affordable housing for seniors are under constant threat or have ceased to exist.

Policymakers at all levels of government are concerned about a looming wave of homelessness among older adults as the number of poor seniors mount and housing costs continue to skyrocket, especially in the Metropolitan DC area. Consider the following facts:

  • More retirees than ever rely on Social Security as their sole source of income in retirement and the average recipient receives $1,341 monthly. Nearly one in five have no retirement savings at all.
  • A growing number of older adults rely on the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that provides eligible seniors with a maximum of $735 a month for an individual and $1,103 for married couples.
  • There is a wide perception that older Americans have limited housing costs because they own their own homes with paid off mortgages (nearly a third of older homeowners still have one) and they have Medicare to cover their health care.
  • Those with mortgages may face problems with unaffordable payments (3.8 million are currently underwater) and most who sell must rent.
  • Medicare does not cover health care costs in full. In fact, high health care costs are the most significant driver of income insecurity among older adults.
  • Between 2003 and 2013, the number of older adult households paying more than half of their incomes for rent or living in severely substandard conditions increased by 31
  • Congress has not provided substantial resources for construction or new housing under Section 202 (a federal-assisted housing program targeted to seniors) since FY2012.
  • Homelessness among seniors is projected to increase 33% by 2020 and 100% by 2050.

Sources and suggested reading. Consider supporting advocacy efforts around providing affordable housing for older Americans:

Center for American Progress, Elderly Poverty: The Challenge Before Us 

Grantmakers in Aging, Affordable Housing for Seniors 

Justice in Aging, How to Prevent and End Homelessness among Older Adults

Kaiser Family Foundation, State by State Snapshot of Poverty among Seniors 

Leading Age, Section 202: Supportive Housing for the Elderly

National Council on Aging, Economic Security Facts 

 

 

 

One Day Last Month

IMG_0896My father is 94. Although  deaf and partially blind, his overall health has been good. For the past four years, he has lived at home receiving help from paid caregivers, until one day last month.

Dad had a very bad urinary tract infection that would not go away. It had begun to travel to his kidneys. He could not sleep because he constantly had to go. He didn’t want to wear diapers; it hurt his dignity. So, he struggled dozens of times to the bathroom about 10 steps from his bed. His caregivers and his family all worried that he would fall. Again.

My brother, who oversees his care day to day, told me he had to be hospitalized and that his caregiving team was very worried. But my brother had just moved into a new house, had a new job, and was finding it difficult to manage it all.

So, I flew to Colorado to help. Dad had only recently been approved for VA health benefits and was admitted to the Denver Veterans Administration hospital. His condition was “touch and go.” The young physician I first spoke to was at first puzzled, but said he and his team were hopeful. I was worried that he might be receiving substandard care, but I shouldn’t have been.

I was by Dad’s bedside for two days and I don’t recall there ever being a time when a nurse, nurse assistant or doctor wasn’t visiting. At one point, a team of physicians including the head resident stood in the room and explained in plain language just what was going on.

During one of those team consults, I told them that I had transcribed Dad’s South Pacific diary and it could be read online. Every single physician read it overnight. I recall that a few of the nurses did too. In other words, they took extra time to get to know my Dad; he was not just another number on a chart.

My brother, who has visited Dad in other nearby not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals over the past several years, said this was the most positive hospital experience he could recall. Rarely have doctors elsewhere spent the kind of time these folks had. Rarely has a team of nurses and nurse assistants been so attentive to his needs.

Dad began to recover; the doctors finally figured it out. However, since he would need a permanent catheter and round the clock care, the verdict was in. He would need long-term care in a facility; he could not return home. I was given a list of the homes the VA contracted with. Naturally, I expected the worst. But, once again, I was wrong.

With a few clicks of the mouse, I found not only an Eden Alternative home but one with stellar Nursing Home Compare ratings. It was 10 minutes from the VA hospital on a quiet city street adjacent to the city park. My brothers and I checked it out and Dad subsequently moved in.

Dad now eats with others in a common area, not alone in his apartment. He is able to walk the halls with his walker and an aide; at home, he rarely went for walks. His caregivers were concerned about his falling and their inability to pick him up. He is receiving speech therapy now, something he had trouble accessing at home through Medicare. His ex-wife and their dog can visit anytime.

So far so good. Dad seemed content the day before I had to return to Northern Virginia. He described his room, which is filled with sunlight most of the day and accommodates his furniture, artwork and family photos, as like a stateroom. This US Navy veteran of years at sea should know.

My father passed away in July 2016. 

 

 

Days of Rage Redux?

protesters-arrested-during-the-days-of-rage-chicago-11-oct-19691In 1970’s America there was a bombing somewhere in America almost every week. It was called Days of Rage. Now there are mass shootings that occur as often as that, but are far more shocking and frightening.

Yesterday, I went to the local post office. The shootings at San Bernadino were still in the headlines. The clerk and I spoke briefly about the shocking incident and I said on leaving, “Things are out of control.” To my surprise, that night on NBC Nightly News a parent of one of the victims said precisely the same thing.

I had forgotten about the Days of Rage. The bombings, when I heard or read about them, seemed distant and random. Somehow they seemed less frightening since the target was property not people. But, people did get killed and support of the Weather Undergound, if there had been any to begin with, soon disappeared.

Mass shootings are domestic terrorism, but with few exceptions seem unrelated to any consistent movement to change our society or political culture. They are random, but feel far less distant and far more frightening than the bombing of a university ROTC building or a city draft headquarters.

I remember when the Washington area was paralyzed by two mass shooters who shot innocent people randomly for weeks on end. My children’s school events were cancelled and we were even afraid to buy gas for fear the snipers would shoot us. For the first time, I knew then that it would be easy for anyone, from a foreign country or from within, to terrorize a city or the entire country. All they needed was a gun.

Today’s pundits and politicians  fear calling most mass shootings terrorism. Political leaders who send prayers to families of victims offer no solutions yet seem to get away with it.

People all over America should be angry, not just afraid. We should translate that anger into action to stop the plague of gun violence. We should challenge those who would rather pray than act. We must confront the gun power structure that holds America hostage and should be blamed for the deaths of far too many innocents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loonies of the Right

capitol-steps-loonies-of-the-rigThe Capitol Steps, a riotous comedy troupe based in DC, coined this phrase and use it in a song to the tune of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. And, it has been swirling around in my head for the past few days as the roads here empty and federal employees in my neighborhood are forced to stay at home and can only guess when they next get paid.

The mean-spirited, harsh words of Republican members of Congress for government employees is beyond comprehension. The video footage of a member berating a Park Service employee for doing their job when it is because of him and other Congressional radicals like him that other employees are not getting paid is truly sickening. These people have no shame.

Worse, their tactics mean millions of children and elderly will not receive meals for weeks and, if this goes on, Social Security and Medicare could grind to a halt. But, to these people who seem to be taking pages out of the Brownshirt playbook, it’s what they wanted all along.

The Loonies of the Right are too dangerous to be funny anymore. Even with the Republican’s brilliant gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts, one only can hope that their constituents are smart enough to see through their insane behavior and send people who are willing and able to govern.

Cut Medicare? Cut Medicaid? Why?

kbmgmedicareterms.jpgIn the 1980s, I worked for a health economist named Carl Schramm. His mantra was that the real problem was health care costs, not the cost of insurance. This message landed him a great job with the health insurance industry and he played it forward while leading its lobbying group in the prelude to the Clinton’s health reform efforts.

While I get that health insurers would rather blame providers (hospitals and doctors at that time more than pharmaceutical companies) rather than shoulder the blame for ever-increasing costs, policymakers might want to think about what Schramm was trying to get across nearly 25 years ago.

Here’s my favorite example. In 2006, a Republican-led effort added a prescription drug benefit to  Medicare. The law specifically states that Medicare could not negotiate prices (it was reasoned the market will do that and how is that working exactly?).

Before tearing up the social contract with older Americans and throwing in the towel, let’s empower Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate health care costs across the board. Giving them more control over costs might, just might save these crucial programs for future generations.

What is Their Vision?

The photo of armed Tea Party members standing in front of the Montana state capitol is chilling and a stark reminder of the insanity of our gun laws, but what is it that these folks really want? What is their real vision for America?

Here are some logical conclusions based on the rantings of many who say they belong to this far right movement:

A nation in which:

  • The elderly are left to starve on the street
  • Teachers are paid as little as possible
  • Health care is a privilege only available to the few
  • Unions have disappeared
  • The federal courts are subservient to corporate interests
  • There are as many tanks and aircraft engines as our money can buy
  • Anyone can walk into a church, school or bar armed to the teeth
  • The rich can get richer, while millions of America’s children go to bed hungry
  • Only “real” Americans can be President

Now that’s just the kind of country that anyone would want to live in.

Cutting Social Security Will Hurt Low Income Elders

The poll results announced yesterday by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare should make members of Congress and others who want to make drastic changes to Social Security think twice.

Proposals to significantly cut benefits or raise the retirement age would hurt older adults with limited income and resources disproportionately. The poll clearly shows that the American people oppose those types of changes.

With the 75th anniversary of Social Security just around the corner, it’s time to strengthen Social Security and not make the most vulnerable in our society suffer.

The poll “U.S. Attitudes Toward Social Security” is now available on the National Committee Foundation’s website.

Elder Justice Act Passes: Part of Health Reform

It is with great pleasure that advocates for the nation’s elderly celebrate the passage of the Elder Justice Act today. It has been a long time coming.

While it will not stop elder abuse, it will help to educate and prevent much abuse and fund those who provide the help and protect our elders. Let’s thank legislators who voted for health reform for their efforts on behalf  of the nation’s elders.

But it doesn’t stop. In order for the legislation to count, there needs to be a renewed effort to fund programs such as adult protective services. Many states have cut programs drastically.

The Elder Justice Now campaign showed how important the work of those advocates is in the lives of elders and their families.

So, get involved and take action through the Elder Justice Now site and stay informed about this important issue through subscribing to updates from the Administration on Aging’s Center for Elder Abuse.

And, write your Democratic Senators and House members today. Thank them and also urge them to not forget to fund the Elder Justice Act so the legislation isn’t just some words on paper. Our elders are counting on us.