Publisher's Pick: We can't put a price on human dignity
Like the tiniest of sparkling diamonds, a single teardrop glistened delicately at the outer corner of her lower eyelid. I had to look twice, look closely, to see if I was correct. I was. There was a tear.
Then I looked into her beautiful, large eyes. The palest blue, paler perhaps than in younger days. The bright-white hair was neatly coiffed, her pastel sweater very pretty.
She looked up into my smiling face, looked beseechingly into my eyes. She could see me. Yet, I wasn't "there" for her. Not really.
There she sat in her wheelchair, quietly, patiently. Patiently? For what purpose? Surely, she did not know. I observed that she was in a momentary holding pattern with others for some sort of therapy.
She began to look about. The hubbub around her had attracted her attention. I was part of the hubbub. It was Good Friday, and members of the Rochester Sunrisers Kiwanis Club were making an annual nursing home visit. Each year club members select one nursing facility in the community to visit on Good Friday.
I handed the lovely lady with the pale blue eyes a flower and card, wished her "Happy Easter." With a slight tremor, a pale hand reached to clasp the gifts. Very softly, she said ... she said ... something. Perhaps "Thank you." It didn't matter.
A flower for all — almost
Club member Diane Solem had found brightly hued, silky gerbera daisies with long, soft, slender, pale-green stems. We carried a bunch of the flowers, giving one each to residents, along with handmade Easter greeting cards crafted by clients of the Ability Building Center's Kiwanis Aktion Club. Michelle and Judy from ABC were there, eager to help, eager to deliver.
Pam Mensink is the director of marketing for the Madonna Living Community in Rochester. She's also a Kiwanis Sunrisers member. Pam and Diane partnered with ABC to arrange this year's Good Friday visit to Madonna's assisted living complex.
Down every corridor, we met residents. Some had visitors.
I couldn't help overhearing a son, himself elderly, patiently explain over and again to a much older woman. "No, Mom, my wife couldn't come. She died. Remember?"
Another resident, earphones signifying deep hearing loss, loudly shouted, "I don't have any money!" when offered a flower and card. Several loud reassurances helped her understand that she was receiving a gift.
In one room, I heard the activities coordinator, Martha Buchmann, address the dapper resident as "doctor" as she announced the purpose of our visit. Although frail, his wits were intact. We chatted but for a minute. I somehow knew that he had great stories to share if someone had time to listen.
Inevitably, I came across a resident who, for some reason, did not want the flower and card. Emphatically, she declined. And who can blame her? A small troupe of well-intentioned Kiwanians nonetheless are intruders.
Too crucial to fail
There's much ado in the news these days about long-standing stagnation of state funding for nursing care facilities.
In a March 22 Post-Bulletin editorial, "Nursing homes, caregivers need a financial lifeline," a case was made to authorize the first state funding increase for public and private-pay nursing care facilities since 2008.
To survive economically, care centers have had little choice but to freeze wages. Thousands of workers who are caring for our parents and grandparents haven't received a raise in four years — which, of course, increases nursing care employee turnover and vacant positions as skilled care workers seek better-compensated employment.
Bills have been introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate that would increase the state's payment rate to nursing homes by 5 percent over two years, with 73 percent of the new revenue going directly to improve employee compensation. The increase would be paid from new state revenues in Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed 2013-14 budget.
The plan also seeks a similar rate increase in the state's Elderly Waiver program, which allows people to receive state-funded care in their homes or some other setting that is less expensive than a nursing home. Many seniors who need assisted living care prefer to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
The nursing care funding plan has bipartisan support, with co-authors including DFL Rep. Kim Norton and Republican Rep. Duane Quam in the House. In the Senate, several versions of the bills exist, with Sen. Dave Senjem and Sen. Carla Nelson signed on as supporters.
I encourage you to voice your support for increased nursing care funding to our legislators. The easiest way to get direct-contact information for legislators is to go to the official Minnesota House and Senate websites.