by Keith Morris, President and CEO, Elder Law of Michigan
This past Thursday, I was reminded of why I do the work that I do.
While traveling to Washington, DC on a small plane, I was fortunate enough to sit next to a nice lady who had flown to Lansing to help her father, who has dementia. She and her four siblings were trying to figure out what to do with their father’s home and how to pay for him to live in a nice assisted living facility in the western part of the state.
Like many other families in today’s very mobile society, the children were scattered across the country. All but one of her siblings lived in other states, and before they moved her father, he lived two hours away from his nearest daughter.
This wonderful lady told me of how they had problems finding qualified in-home help. Her father lived in a somewhat rural area, and several times, the caregivers would call in, leaving no one there to help her father.
Now that they have moved her father closer to her sister that lives in Western Michigan, they are left to deal with a home that has been vacant for a while and had damage from the recent heavy rains. So, on top of dealing with the problems of long-term care, they also had to get mold removed, etc.
“He’s our father. We’d do anything in the world for him, ” she said matter-of-factly after recounting her story. We both discussed how many seniors and their children are in similar situations. We went on to talk about how confusing the whole process was. She told me how grateful she was for the Area Agency on Aging that helped her. She had nothing but great things to say about all of the help she received.
I have been thinking about that conversation over the past few days. My parents live many hours away, but I have siblings who live close to them. We haven’t really talked about what would happen when the time came for one or both of them would need long-term care. Will I be thrust into a situation like my seatmate on the flight? I am busy with so much stuff now, how in the world would I be able to balance anything like this. But they’re my parents, and I’d do anything in the world for them.
It reminded me of a recent CBS Sunday Morning story called “Stuck in the Middle” . From the name, I thought it was going to be about the sandwich of people caregiving for children and aging parents. However, it also talked about the seniors that are not poor enough to qualify for government services, but not rich enough to pay for these services on their own. I definitely think my parents would fall in that category. Would one of my brothers or I be able to take care of one or both of my parents like the lady in the story who was caring fulltime for her stepfather because he didn’t qualify for assistance?
I have been working at Elder Law of Michigan for almost fifteen years. I remember when I first started, I envisioned almost every person who called as one of my grandparents. I would do anything I could to try and fix their problem. As the years have gone by, I have had fewer and fewer of those opportunities because of my changing role. But, as I think about my parents enrolling in Medicare and Social Security several years ago, I realize that it is now my parents that would be calling for our help.
After last Thursday, I also realize that before too long, it will be me needing help with a problem concerning my parents and their long-term care. And I am an attorney who works for a non-profit that helps seniors. At least I know where to go for help and what services are available.
I am grateful for the reminder that there is such a growing need for help, whether for the seniors who don’t have children nearby to help or for the family members who are trying to take care of their parents.
I am also grateful that this stranger put a face to someone who needs our services. She is one of many family caregivers who search for answers to questions, try to assist from a distance, and are grateful once they connect to an aging service provider. After all, like her, there are many others that matter-of-factly say, “They are our parents. We would do anything in the world for them.”
Keith is the President & CEO for Elder Law of Michigan. He has been with Elder Law since 2001, when he started as a volunteer while in law school. In 2007, Keith became the Project Director for the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, which was established to provide technical assistance to senior legal hotlines throughout the nation. In this role, Keith has provided advice and consultations to programs on topics ranging from intake processes to targeting of services. He is currently taking the lead on a project to develop outcome reporting for the work at senior legal hotlines.
Additionally, Keith has presented at national conferences for the past eight years on topics such as using volunteers in a hotline setting, hotline adaptations to meet community needs, and fundraising for sustainability. He has done site visits to senior legal service programs to offer his expertise on operational and management topics like designing intake processes, building community collaboratives, and doing outreach to underserved communities