Seniors living in long-term care facilities on the Olympic Peninsula were urged Sept. 17 at a conference in Sequim to become more politically active.
"Make your voice heard" was the theme of the event staged at Trinity United Methodist Church and attended by more than 60 residents of a half-dozen care facilities on the peninsula.
The Partners In Progress Conference was sponsored by the Resident Councils of Washington, a nonprofit consumer-based organization dedicated to advocating for residents in long-term care centers.
Reps. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, urged the seniors to become involved in the upcoming election by reading up on candidates, remembering to vote and then following up by connecting with legislators once they are in office.
Kessler went so far as to tell those participating that if they needed stamps to mail their ballots, she would help them. She noted there have been close votes in her district and in state races. She said she's learned that every vote counts.
Seniors are "high" on legislators' concern lists, Kessler told the group, adding that state reimbursements for caring for people in facilities likely never will be as much as the true cost of caring for people.
"I'm very aware of the challenges," Kessler said, noting she has two sisters in their 80s.
Van De Wege reminded people of voter guides published by local newspapers and urged people to read them to figure out "who best mirrors your values."
Judith Morris of Rep. Norm Dicks' office urged seniors to keep informed and stay on top of the issues as well as connect to elected officials.
"If your elected officials don't hear from you, they don't know what you want in your life," Morris said.
One of the purposes of the conference was to poll seniors in the nursing homes, assisted-living centers and other facilities to find out what issues they felt were important and to learn how residents of the Victoria House in Port Townsend became active last year and ultimately helped change state law impacting care facilities.
Kay Harper, a resident of Victoria House at the time, activated others in the facility and in the community last November when owners of the facility notified 11 residents they would have to move from the facility because the company was ending its Medicaid contract with the state. Harper led an initial protest in her room, then moved the protest in front of the facility weeks later with a large contingent of supporters.
Although Harper wasn't able to be at the conference, her actions were discussed and praised by a panel including Doug Campbell, whose 90-year-old mother was one of the 11 residents involved, and former regional long-term care ombudsman Sue Estes of Port Townsend, whose husband, John
Estes, was a volunteer ombudsman at the facility last year.
"It all started with a resident who had the nerve to stand up for her rights," said Sharon McIntyre, director of Resident Councils of Washington, in introducing the panel and explaining how Harper had started the political ball rolling.
Ultimately, the residents all left the facility - Harper was last to go - but their actions spurred legislators into passing SB 6807, a new law that prohibits a facility from evicting a resident who goes on Medicaid before the facility's contract with the state is canceled.
"You can make a difference, but you can't make a difference sitting on your thumbs," John Estes said in encouraging seniors to get involved.
Upcoming senior issues
After the panel discussion, McIntyre led residents, activity directors and others in an informal discussion of what kinds of issues were of concern to people living in long-term care facilities.
Questions were raised about dental and vision care for seniors in facilities.
Several people talked about the need for the state to better reimburse facilities so that people on Medicaid can "age in place" and don't have to move once they exhaust their personal funds.
"The reimbursement rate from the state is so low, it's not working," said Paula Cunningham of St. Andrews Place, a nonprofit assisted-living facility.
"We are looking at a larger aging population. I think the most important thing is to get people aware of the coming crisis," said another regional manager.
One 84-year-old woman questioned how far people go medically to cling to living while potentially raising the cost of medical care. She said she knew someone in his 90s who had a heart condition that required $250,000 in medical care and she wanted to know how others felt about that, if that was the right thing to do.
What RCW does
The Resident Councils of Washington is a nonprofit, independent, consumer-based organization that seeks to empower residents in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and dementia-care facilities.
Family, friends and health care professionals also are encouraged to participate in an effort to recognize that people who live in facilities have rights and need opportunities, education and resources to live life to the fullest.
For more information on the RCW, contact Sharon McIntyre at 360-275-8000 or visit www.residentcouncil.org.
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