A story about overcoming health and financial obstacles to care for aging parents
For Dennis, 69, and Dona Marsh, 65, Rock Falls, IL, their days are now measured in smiles and quality time spent with grandchildren, along with the peace of mind that comes with knowing their families, and especially Dennis’ 96-year old mother, are thriving. After what had been a tumultuous year of worry and grief grappling with tough end-of-life decisions many families will experience, the Marsh’s are now looking forward to their retirement years with more joy and less worry.
The Marsh Family...
While Dennis is retired and Dona still works at the local newspaper, they are not only busy grandparents, but still fill the role as caregivers for Dennis’ widowed mother, Dorothy, who, until last year, was still living with her husband, Robert, on their own. “Dennis is an only child, so as mom and dad had begun to enter their 9th decade,” recalls Dona, “we tried to talk to them about moving into assisted living, but they weren’t interested. Then the day after Easter, we got the call that Dad needed us to take him to the ER. He was bleeding. He was having issues with his colon. He needed blood transfusions and underwent emergency surgery. It changed everything.”
In the span of a few weeks, Dennis and Dona confronted tough questions: Where was Dad going to recover since he couldn’t live at home? What was Mom going to do now that she was living alone? How were they going to pay for all of the care on a limited Social Security income? “Ten years ago, they sold their house and put their money in CD’s. They wanted to save their money and pass it on to us, but we told them we wanted them to use it for themselves,” added Dona. Now faced with two dependent parents with different care needs, Dennis and Dona soon found they were in over their heads.
“We always get calls in which people think they will lose everything if they go into or remain in the nursing home,” explains Kathy Nitz, a Lead Benefits Advocate for Quad City-based group, GolderCare Solutions. GolderCare is a group that serves as an independent advocate when helping families navigate and overcome the complex care, financial, health, and legal hurdles families face in their senior years, especially with aging parents. Leading the team for the Marsh’s was GolderCare’s Kathy Nitz, a Lead Benefits Advocate, experienced in Medicaid and government benefits applications and regulations; Julie Arndt, Lead Care Advocate, specializing in senior care options; and Leah Kelly, who helped coordinate local senior living options for both parents.
Recalls Dona, “While Dad was in the hospital, Kathy and Julie came to our home. At the time we were running between the hospital and Dennis’ mom at her house, trying to make sure she was eating. GolderCare explained how they could help find housing options and protect our parent’s financial assets, so we knew we had a team to turn to.”
“The Marsh’s are not alone in the issues families face today,” adds Julie Arndt. “In many ways they were classic case: They had finite resources; both parents needed two different levels of care; Robert needed acute care in a nursing facility, and Dorothy couldn’t live by herself. One particular hurdle we faced was that Dorothy’s income was too low to qualify for a local assisted living facility, but she needed to be in a structured living situation. She was only eating peanut butter sandwiches to save money. Dennis and Dona were running between two parents, while trying to maintain their own lives. Under these circumstances, families understandably feel powerless. But there are always options.”
“Our first step for the Marsh’s, and every family, is to begin with a care assessment,” explains Kathy. “Every family faces unique circumstances. We consider the care, legal, and financial-related documentation our clients must provide, so we can empower them to make decisions. As we begin the task of applying for relevant benefit programs, our goal is that the family has senior living and health-related options to consider.”
In the initial assessment, the GolderCare team discovered the Marsh’s did not have the proper legal documentation, such as powers of attorney or an estate plan. “The first thing we did was refer them to our elder law partner, Jamieson Long & Associates, to get powers of attorney so Dennis could act on his parents’ behalf,” says Kathy. Dennis recalls, “We had to find all their bank statements, health documents, life insurance policies, investments, and household expenditures. But, when the paperwork was completed, we could start to make decisions without fear of losing everything. Thank God GolderCare was there.”
With Robert recovering in a nursing facility, GolderCare’s Benefit Advocate, Leah Kelly, began the Medicaid application process for both parents. “Both Robert and Dorothy had slightly different care needs. We needed to preserve their assets in order to get Dorothy care. The local assisted living facility had originally turned her down because she did not have enough money,” says Leah.
To get each parent the care they needed, GolderCare educated both the family and facility on how Medicaid rules applied to their unique situation. “No one was connecting the dots,” says Kathy. “Rules are there, but rules apply differently to each case. We held conference calls with the facility. The facility was telling them, ‘No, her income was not high enough.’ We were able to get Robert on Medicaid for his long-term care, and divert his income to Dorothy, so she could get the care she needed. We had to apply the rules creatively but correctly. We were also able to set aside money for her supplemental needs for things like clothes, cable TV, and a phone.”
Circumstances changed rapidly again as Robert’s health continued to decline. “After a third trip to the hospital, my father died of pneumonia,” Dennis recalls. “At the age of 94, he had two surgeries in a span of one month. He said he was done. We went through a tough time when my father passed away. The very next month, we were able to move mom into a better living arrangement.” GolderCare helped preserved money for Dorothy, so when Robert passed in 2015, GolderCare applied for Medicaid and she moved into Heritage Woods in Sterling. “Looking back,” says Dennis, “had my parents chosen to go into assisted living, without GolderCare, there would have been no money left for mom’s care. She is now thriving. At age 96, she is amazing,” say both Dennis and Dona. “She does everything. She takes care of her own medicine and checkbook!”
Kathy adds that Assisted Living can often be the right choice, and for Dorothy, she is socially connected now that she’s not alone. “It’s the right thing for her, and that’s what we strive for — providing a plan with options so families can make the best decisions possible.”
With Dorothy doing well, the Marsh’s have finally been able to return to their own lives, and are making their own plans to travel and visit family. “We were in Ireland in September. We have six grandchildren and two great children. We love to spend time with family and babysit the grandkids. It is a relief that we don’t have to worry as much any more. Everything has worked out exactly as GolderCare predicted,” affirms Dona and Dennis.
“We know from our own experience that taking care of aging parents is a full-time job. GolderCare not only protected my folks’ quality of life, but ours too. There were times I was calling them every day, afraid to make a decision that could cost my mom.
“GolderCare was like a firewall that protected Mom as well as us. We put our trust in their hands and the result was a big positive.”
For the Marsh’s, they are already making plans to explore new horizons. “We want to go back to Ireland, and we want to get back to Alaska. We can do that now because we know our family is okay.”
GolderCare Solutions is an independent Quad-Cities team of eldercare specialists whose only focus is the well-being of the families we serve. GolderCare provides critical expertise in medical insurance, asset protection, government benefits and other aspects of senior life. Quad-City families have relied on GolderCare since 2008 to help ensure their aging loved ones live life the way they want, while protecting their finances and yours. Contact GolderCare today for a free introductory meeting on your unique situation … and take a step toward a sustainable long-term plan that relieves your stress and preserves you family’s quality of life.