VIVE LA VIDA BUENA (LIVE THE GOOD LIFE)

From March 6 to April 8 of this year, I experienced five deaths of people I consider part of my life.  Two were wonderful  with whom who I had the pleasure of sharing some time and three were dear friends.  All were under the age of 75.  Only one of these deaths was from cancer — the other four were unexpected and left families and friends reeling.

There is, in my humble opinion, only one way to conquer death — live a good life. Perhaps my previous columns have been too obtuse  . . . so let me make it clear — you must preplan to age gracefully and comfortably.  We all have different needs and it is YOUR needs that must be met.  It seems that as we age we view ourselves as less relevant but are we really?

When people talk about living a good life they discuss “paying it forward”, or being kind to your neighbors, or creating world peace in your environment.  I’m pragmatic, therefore I view living a good life as being relevant and keeping my and body healthy.  How do we do that?  Easily, we plan.  Once we begin using medicare I suggest we begin to plan for our last years — which in today’s world is 80 to 100.  The longer you live, the longer you will live.  But, and its a big but, we want to live it well . . . and that means having to deal with the senior care/elder care bureaucracy.

I have a plethora of columns discussing how ‘institutions’ are obstacles not cheerleaders — why – because “seniors” are not valued and easy targets. The exact opposite is the real truth – we vote, we pay taxes, our children are the current workforce and we have experience.

To that end, how do we stay relevant?  It’s easy, preplan!   Whether you have parents or a partner who is older you have to discuss how to stay healthy, both mentally and physically.  Some of the mental health is dependent on financial health. What insurance policies are available?  How many financial accounts are there?   Does the home and financial accounts transfer without going through probate?   These are DIFFICULT! conversations but once done provide true peace of mind.

So, I urge you to look at the non-medical side of your life and begin to ask yourself, your partner or your parents the tough questions then find the solutions so that we can all “Vive La Vida Loca.”

To recap:

  • Are the financial instruments in order
  • Are the legal documents in order
  • Is your house “too much”, does it need de-cluttering or should you move
  • Are you, your partner/spouse or parents healthy

ARE YOU HAVING FUN?!?

LET’S DO THIS!

FLORIDA ADDS MORE MONEY FOR SENIOR CARE

As we all now know, after Hurricane  Irma fourteen elderly souls died because the nursing home in which they resided did not have a electricity after the storm.  As a consequence, they “overheated” and died.  Well, there is good news – the Florida Legislature and Governor have placed $37.1 billion dollars in this year’s fiscal budget to be used across six health care and social service agencies.

Florida’s medicaid program is the largest recipient at $29.2 billion and Children & Family Services receive $1.7 billion.  Those living in nursing homes will receive a 25% raise, from $105/m to $130/m. Nursing homes are now required to have generators with enough fuel to cool buildings during elongated power outages. The above monies are all coming from Florida taxpayers but my favorite part of the legislation is not tax based.

Starting this fiscal year, nursing homes (that receive medicaid dollars) will be paid on a set formula.  These providers must meet certain “direct patient-care” requirements as well as “quality of care” requirements.  In other words, if a nursing home only meets a minimum standard, they will be paid a minimum amount and given a set amount of time in which to bring the ‘home’ up to the formulaic standard.  As the homes hire more qualified staff and add amenities to its building and programs – they will receive larger payments.  As one law maker put it, they have to spend money, to make money.

As a senior’s advocate I’m thrilled that our state government realized how badly these “homes” were treating their patients.  Yet, it took senseless deaths to have a focus placed on how our greatest generation and aging or ailing baby boomers are treated when they can no longer treat themselves.  That is where we must be more vigilant.

As I write this, I cannot help but remember the 17 people who died very prematurely at Parkland High School.  And, yes, because of the deaths and the student’s activism we’ve put in some stricter state gun regulations.  Also many large gun sellers are now refusing to sell to anyone under 21.  Still, much like our senior citizens, why must it takes death to examine our mores and ethics.

THE PERILS OF HOSPITALS

HOSPITALS — once synonymous with a place to go when you’re REALLY sick is now the last place you want to be unless it’s prescheduled surgery with a doctor you trust.  If you’re elderly and/or on Medicare you are treated as a money machine — not a person.

Here’s how it works  . . . depending on how sick you are is how quickly you’re seen.  If you have an HMO or PPO assigned to your Medicare plan then everything is a predetermined price.  If you only have a medicare card then the patient becomes an ATM. This means that the nurses and techs will run as many

tests as reasonably possible (that insurance will pay).  The Doctor will review the chart for a “diagnosis” which, in my experience, is usually “inconclusive.”

The first time you go to the ER they will probably let you go home after the inconclusive tests BUT should you go back within 72 hours the hospital will admit you.  This is because the insurance companies won’t pay for a second ER visit without a diagnosis and admittance.

Now, here’s what is very important — you cannot let your elderly Mom, Dad and/or relative stay in the Emergency Room by themselves.  Here’s why — the administration will have them sign consent forms for numerous tests that do nothing except take up time.  Secondly, the treat them horribly!  Here is my story:

I took my 90+ Dad to his HMO doc.  He was having balance issues with other symptoms that portend  a stroke.  We rush to the ER and sit in highly uncomfortable chairs with all types of sick people.  After approximately 2 hours they call Dad into a “room.”  The medical techs hook him up to a glucose drip and leave the room.  For the next 3 hours he is taken from one machine to another for test after test. Because my Father is elderly he meekly goes where he’s told.  At the end of this interminable afternoon we receive an “inconclusive diagnosis” and he is allowed to go home.

Two nights later the same symptoms occur — my brother calls 911 and Dad is whisked off to the hospital.  I get home in time to follow the ambulance to the same hospital where we’d spent the afternoon.  I stay with my Father — they finally move him to an ER room and begin to do THE EXACT SAME TESTS they did 48 hours earlier.  I question every one.  It is now 1 am in the morning — I find blankets and sleep on the floor next to Dad’s bed because they are going admit him.  (Remember, if they don’t admit him the hospital won’t be paid.)  In every case, with every test, the results were the same as the ones 48 hours earlier BUT now the diagnosis is not inconclusive  . . . it’s we need more tests and observation.  After two days they allowed him to leave with the diagnosis of dehydration!

Bottom line, if you have an elderly parent or grandparent do not trust the hospital.  When either of my parents stay in the hospital overnight we hire a “babysitter”.  Yes, it costs money but your loved one doesn’t wake up to an empty room trying to figure out where he or she is.  Further, I check the chart constantly to see what is diagnosis and medicine is being used.  Truthfully, it’s like having a child — the difference, I’m grateful to be able to reciprocate what was done for me.

SENIORS SHOULD NEVER SUFFER . . . BUT THEY DO

This is an editorial to the Miami Herald written by H. Frances Reaves, Esq., President of Parent Your Parents,  in October of 2017.  This was written after Hurricane Harvey and Irma and the mirror placed on Senior Services. As we suffer through a very cold winter these words are still prophetic.

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN the video of the residents of a nursing home in Houston, Texas sitting in waist high water simply search “video of seniors in waist high water” in your browser – the You Tube video comes right up.   School children were evacuated, families were evacuated and who was left behind  . . . seniors.  Two weeks later, in the aftermath of Irma, 14 seniors die from overheating in a Broward County Nursing Home.

If these seniors had been children the outcry would have been much louder and punishment swifter.  An excellent example is the most recent earthquake in Mexico.  The school caved in on top of 24 children and four adults.  The volunteer rescuers were there within minutes and the TV crews transmitted  the entire search and rescue for more than three days.  That would not be the case if this had been a senior citizens facility.

Fariola Santiago wrote in her September 24th column that “the elderly are like children, frail, unable to care for themselves, and vulnerable to abuse and negligence.  Those who don’t have money or advocates and require round-the-clock care end up in places with deplorable conditions  . . .”  I agree with Ms. Santiago regarding the elderly but disagree that all nursing homes have deplorable conditions.  We also need to remember that, with the exception of one “lonely soul,” everyone had a family  . . . and the family did not take them from the ‘deplorable home’ even after they knew about the power failure.

Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials beware — you, too will be a senior!  Seniors, are an older version of who we are today. We espouse the sentiment that, “I only want to live a long life if I have a quality of life” but legally we don’t have a choice once our mind collapses.

What we don’t discuss is that dementia does not take away your intellect, mental pain or physical pain.  Dementia takes away the ability to communicate effectively.  It also absconds with your memory – which allows we the children to believe that with memory loss there is a loss of all senses.  That is not the case.  The 14 elders who died felt pain and the first to die truly suffered because they did not have the benefit of hospice care.

No doubt, the staff at this nefarious nursing home was negligent, incompetent and uncaring and they were allowed to function as “caretakers” for years.  It took a hurricane and power outage to bring it to light. Had this been a daycare center the negligence would not have been allowed to continue.

As the President of a company who advocates for seniors, finds resources, counsels families and assists in medicaid preparations, my experience shows that most of us face living in a medicaid facility.  Unless you have a healthy pension or half a million dollars you will not have the money for dementia care in a private facility.  Today that runs between six to seven thousand dollars a month.  If you qualify for medicaid, nursing homes run about $700.00 and  medicaid picking up the balance.

We must look in the mirror!  let’s begin the process of treating our elderly loved ones as our children.  Treat them as you treat those around you.  Hold the Assisted Living Centers and Medicaid Facilities accountable and — START SAVING!!

 

NOT ALL HOSPICE IS CREATED EQUAL

What is Hospice?  First, it is a type of care and philosophy that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, as well as attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.   OK – so what is palliation?  Palliation is a service that makes you feel better even though it can’t cure you.

Hospice is a positive addition to our medicare system because the focus is the patient.  The goal is to keep each patient as comfortable as possible.  This means additional care over what your loved one is already receiving. Between nurses, social workers and priests, there is someone there two to three times a week to make certain there is no pain or discomfort.

The other side of this service is that it is run by medicare.  That means that Hospice is free if you’re in Medicare as most of our seniors are.   This also means not all Hospice providers are the same.  There are thousands of Hospice providers and you have to be certain that they are doing their job (much like those Medicare doctors I’ve described in earlier articles).

I’ve had two different patients in different facilities with different providers and the difference was night and day.  One provider is in a nursing home that accepts medicaid patients, we’ll call it A for purposes of this article. The other provider was for a client who lived in an assisted living facility – one that cost $4500/month.  This Provider is called F.

A little background – once a patient has been admitted to Hospice, its doctors, nurses and aides “rule” the care.  If the patient is a diabetic he or she will still stay on diabetes medicine but perhaps be taken off non-essential medication depending on the comfort level. Yes, the facility still feeds and provides a clean environment  but Hospice is in charge of the patients comfort.

In most nursing homes the patients are in full blown dementia but not necessarily at the end of their life physically.  Therefore, it is much more difficult to qualify for Hospice in a nursing home.  However, once the patient is accepted the care for my nursing home client was beyond great.  Her nurse was Mark and I could call anytime to check on her (once the children had given their permission)

The other client was in an Assisted Living Facility and qualified for Hospice before the children asked.  They had no indication he was in his last days, weeks or months.  Once their loved one  become uncomfortable and disoriented they started receiving a “run around.”  Parent Your Parents was asked to intervene.  Here’s what we found, the Assisted Living Center blamed it on Hospice and Hospice blamed it on the Assisted Living Center.  We started calling the Hospice office daily to ask for more help. Hospice told the children that babysitters were needed (at $20/hour).  That is when we went into advocate mode.  I reminded the Hospice company that their job was comfort and they had to start providing real comfort, not advice to the children and Assisted Living Center’s employees!  Remember these companies make money and paying people to babysit takes away from their bottom line.  The end result, this Hospice company did what they advertised and found a bed in an extremely lovely location where the client passed away comfortably and peacefully.

Bottom line – not all Hospice is created equal.

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

As I’ve discussed in several articles the discussion of money is a must but can also be a monster rearing its ugly head.   We’ve discussed having  Powers of Attorney in place for our elderly loved ones.  Most states require  one for finance and one for medical — two different trusted representatives should be chosen.  This allows for shared responsibility and shared communication.

Although the trusted loved one is normally fine and nothing happens, it can be a slippery slope which is why I recommend any financial moves to be as transparent as possible and shared among the siblings or trusted loved ones. The vast majority of family members rarely swindle or take advantage of their parents or elderly loved ones but it does happen and the idea of unrestricted funds can be a temptation.  This is why we recommend that there be an “informal transparency” to protect your elderly loved one and you.

Following is one system to implement – one trusted representative is a signatory on the elderly loved one’s checking accounts and a second trusted representative has access to it (i.e. – given the user name and ID).  When a separate account is created to pay for care, we suggest two trusted representatives on the account.

The other pitfall are the family members, friends and care takers who will try to manipulate your elderly loved one into private gifts, be it through money, credit card purchases, a car for their grandchild (we’ve seen this) or simply write them into the will.  Again, this is why financial transparency is a must.  If the monitoring is spread among many it is much more difficult for one to have undue influence.

The elderly community is rife with stories of hired “trusted” caretakers who steal little things — trinkets, jewelry, food and petty cash.  (See my column on hiring and monitoring Caretakers).  Again, anything valuable should be removed from the house and gifted to the different loved ones and/or trusted representatives.  If the family doesn’t agree we suggest outside assistance in the form of attorneys and psychiatrists.  I always hesitate to use either because  . . . they cost money!

The Expected is Still Unexpected

On July 28th, at 1:00 am in the morning my phone rang, it was the hospice nurse informing me that Mom had died at 12:28 a

Mom and her skydiving team – Frances, Jeff and Elizabeth

And yes, our hospice nurse had prepared us for this  . . . he said as nicely as he could that she was “leaving”, that “it was time”  . . . using gentle words to describe death.  Still, when the call came early Friday morning I wasn’t’t “prepared.”  Why?  Because no one ever is.

As you know if you’ve been reading my columns, the family had done all we could to prepare for death.  So the lesson learned was PREPLAN.  My brother and I had  hired a funeral home which allowed us to make our father the focus of our lives in the the immediate days after his partner of 63 years died. He insisted on seeing her one last time, my brother called the funeral home and they prepared her for Dad’s visit.  My father insisted on a small, familial memorial service — not a problem, we focused on the service and the reception after.  Caterers were hired, programs were printed and music abounded.

And yes, all this costs money but there was no “guilt money”.  We knew what we could spend and had done all the budgeting when hiring our funeral home.  In fact, we told the director that when Dad dies he wants his ashes placed in a military cemetery in Ft. Worth, TX – next to one of his best friends, our cousin General Akin,  “so they can pal around.”  The funeral home takes care of that, as well.

So, yes it all worked to our benefit.  Mom was cremated, some of her ashes placed in the ground at the nearby churchyard and the rest to be mixed with Dad’s when we take them to their final resting place.  What doesn’t go away, nor should it, is the grief.  it comes in waves.  At the service when I spoke I didn’t shed a tear.  Two days later, telling a ‘stranger’ the story, my eyes welled with tears.

Grief counselors tell you this is what happens.  I was shocked at myself, I knew Mom was close to death but when the finality happens it hits hard!  We even had time for last rites, last songs, last moments  . . . but death is final and no amount of preparation prepares you for it.

Revel in the memories, think of the good times and admire your loved ones for all they accomplished  . . . including you!  Yes, they do live on in our hearts.

Nursing Homes – Often the End Game

I am confident most of you heard the news about the eight seniors who died from overheating.  They were all in a licensed “nursing home” in Hollywood Hills.   ‘Nursing Home’ is a euphemism for a home for seniors who are at the poverty level and qualify for medicaid.

Nursing homes are like every other industry — they have to make money to survive.  In the case of nursing homes they’re paid by the state medicaid fund and it’s per pa

The nursing home visit

tient.  This fund is made up of state and federal dollars.  Obama Care expanded medicaid in the states who took the federal dollars but Florida is not one of them.

Bottom line, these are not the luxurious environments for either staff or residents.  In my parents case, Mom had been in a lovely residential facility where she was one of three or four people.  Her Long Term Care Insurance paid for it.  She outlived her two year policy and we had to place her in a Nursing Home.  It was our only realistic option as Mom’s care in an Alzheimer’s facility would be close to $7000,00 a month.  Mom and Dad couldn’t afford it and neither could the children.

In pursuit of the best we could find, I  went to several nursing homes and learned more than I needed to know.  All these homes are very austere and it’s a shock!  Bare floors, usually

formica, and waiting rooms with plastic chairs.  Almost all the receptionists were behind a barrier — some better designed than others.

The patient population is made up of mostly Alzheimers and Dementia sufferers.  All the residents are in a wheel chair, a portable bed or never moved from their beds.

Another surprise, the aides often use pulleys attached to patients to change their clothes, move them to the shower or simply change their diapers.  Depending on the home, these medical aides must change and clean about 19 patients each.  Some work in tandem others work solo — it all depends on the chore.

Further, most patients are only bathed twice a week, maximum three times a week.  During one of these showers their hair is washed.  Bottom line, it’s not how we envision our last days, weeks, months or years of life.

On the good side, the ‘better nursing homes’ have excellent care.  They hire a team of Geriatric Doctors that include Psychiatrists.  These Geriatric groups come to the Nursing Home through a PPO and the doctors physically visit once a month.  There is usually a Podiatrist group that also visits once a month (Medicare pays for podiatry services) and a dentist who comes once a quarter. The day to day care is with the Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Professional Nurses (LPNs), physical therapists and medical technicians.  They also have a contracted Hospice service.

Here are some tips when you need to look for a nursing home:

What is the turn-over rate of its employees

Needless to say, the less turnover the better the place.  If the staff is not leaving then something is going well — usually their paid above average wages

Is there a hair salon

If there is a hair salon then there’s a market for it.  This means the residents take pride in how they look.  People who take pride in themselves care about their environment.

Is it clean

As we all know, cleanliness is godliness

Is there a smell

Again, if it smells that means it’s really not clean – no matter how good it looks

Is there a smile on the faces of the staff

A smiling staff means a happy staff

Again, hopefully it doesn’t come to this but if it does, know how to choose the best one.

Tough Love – Parenting Your Parents

It’s not easy to parent your parents — it’s not a pleasant role — it means Mom, Dad or both are getting weaker and none of us want to admit the role reversal has begun.

When I consult with clients I hear time and time again — Mom doesn’t want to leave her home, Dad is not going to allow any one else to pay his bills,  There is no need to force anyone — the name of the game is to persuade in an assertive, caring and respectful manner.  For their sakes and yours, embrace the role!

After Mother’s decline into Alzhiemers, my brother and I were thrown into the role reversal with little or no direction.  Here’s what we learned:

Accept Your Role. No one else can do it with your love so embrace it and consider it an honor.  But for them, you wouldn’t’t be here.

Be Assertive.  Yes, at times you will have to tell Mom or Dad (or both) what to do.  Of course Mom doesn’t’t want to move from her home — you have to tell her (gently and politely) that she must.  You explain the reasons, answer her questions and, as she did with you, persuade her that “this’ is the best way.

Pay Attention to the Basics.  Are your parents showering regularly?  Are they having regular meals?  Are they taking their medication on a timely basis?  If not, see above — it’s time to be assertive and decide how best to move them forward.

Insist.  Or, if you prefer, be firm.  When your parents resist keeping on insisting.  “Dad, we have to do this, we’ve gone over it a million times – let’s not fight about it.”  Again, no yelling or shoving – just gently insist.

Prepare all the financial and legal documents.  Taking the helm of your parent’s finances is a daunting but necessary task.  Make yourself, or your sibling, a signer on their checking accounts then have them sign a Power of Attorney for both financial and medical decisions. This must be done before they lose their mental capacity.  If you don’t do this it will be much more difficult and costly when they lose their ability to make decisions.

At the end of the day, here is what you have to remember – when it comes to parenting your parents you have three choices:

  • You care for your parents yourself
  • You hire someone to care for your parents
  • You allow them to enter a Medicaid facility

These alternatives all have pluses and minuses.  Most of the decisions are based on finances and nothing and no-one is perfect so after you’ve been assertive, and insistent forgive yourself – your parents did!

Observations After a Disaster

If you haven’t seen the video of the residents of a nursing home in Houston, Texas sitting in waist high water simply search “video of seniors in waist high water” in your browser.   School children were evacuated, families were evacuated and who was left behind  . . . seniors.  Two weeks later, in the aftermath of Irma, 14 seniors die from overheating in a Broward County Nursing Home.

If these seniors had been children, the outcry would have been much louder and punishment swifter.  An excellent example is the most recent earthquake in Mexico.  The school that fell down on top of 24 children and four adults had rescuers there in minutes with TV crews transmitting  the entire search for more than three days.  I fear that would not be the case if this had been a home where senior citizens lived.

It is this dichotomy that led me and my partners to found Parent Your Parents (PYP)(parentyourparents.com).  How could anyone allow their “charge” to drown or die from overheating.   Yes, these Assisted Living Centers and Medicaid funded nursing homes are negligent but isn’t that also the case for the families who left them there?  Would they have ever done that to their children??

There is no criticism here — simply a look in the mirror.  If your parents or grandparents are in one of these homes today the chances are EXCELLENT that you will be as well. Yes, we can buy Long Term Care Insurance  but today’s policies don’t cover you for the duration of your life.  We are living longer and unless you have a minimum of $5 million there is a very good chance you will use all your money in the last five years of your life for healthcare.

As a child of an aging parent or loved one there comes a time and you must take charge.  It isn’t easy and it wasn’t easy for them when you were a cute kid begging for a kitty and they said no.  But, if it’s time – face it .

First, honestly asses where they are mentally and physically.  Discuss options with your siblings and present a united front — just like your parents did when you were a child.  You must have a Living Will, you must have a Power of Attorney – one for finance, one for medical.  You must go to the doctor with them and make certain they are receiving the best medical care.  The   doctors MUST know that you are on top of their health.   (Remember, I fired my parents doctor, see Article 2 – How to Get the Best Care Through Medicare),

Secondly — ask them what insurance they have  . . . is it life insurance, supplemental health insurance, burial policy, Long Term Care —- and, the most difficult question — what is their financial status?   None of this is easy but none of it takes financial acuity — it takes emotion, love, tenderness and hand holding.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents took you through some of life’s trials with the same skills?

Disasters like Irma, Maria and earthquakes bring out the best and the worst.  Now is the time to be the best.