Home care referendum will ensure all Mainers age in grace - Caring Across Generations

Home care referendum will ensure all Mainers age in grace

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This piece originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News. Read it there. 

My work as a pastor is deeply rewarding, and I treasure St. Patrick’s Church and the community we’ve built. We care for one another. But as time passes, I’ve seen how the home care system fails our older parishioners and their families, and I worry about their ability to remain a part of the home they’ve built here.

That’s why this November I’ll be voting yes on Question 1. So many of our friends and neighbors, seniors, veterans and those with disabilities need just a little support to stay at home and continue to enliven our communities.

That’s also why the Maine Council of Churches, representing seven denominations and hundreds of houses of worship across the state, has endorsed Question 1.

My congregation has more single older women than men. Many have minimal savings and no family nearby. They cannot afford the care they need and are headed toward needing even more care. Question 1 would be a huge step toward ensuring vital support for not just these women but so many of our elders, who have nowhere else to turn.

I know that struggle. Six years ago, I came back to our family farm to help care for my 90-year-old father. Even though my dad had lived on the farm his whole life, he ended up having to go into a nursing home.

His will to live declined rapidly once away from his home and family that he loved, and he died shortly thereafter.

Soon after, my wife, who had suffered a stroke, was diagnosed with cancer and after several months passed away.

My mom was having a harder time taking care of herself and the farm that’s been in our family for seven generations, so my 38-year-old daughter Katherine, who has Down syndrome, and I moved in with her. I now juggle taking care of both of them and working part time to pay for caregivers.

Katherine goes to day programs through Medicaid, and I pay several people to assist with my mother’s care. Every week, it’s like doing a puzzle to figure out who can come in when so my mom is not left alone for more than a couple of hours. I wish I could find a live-in person to help. After researching several agencies, I found I could not afford their services.

I’m honestly too preoccupied with the present to think about my future care needs, but I’m no spring chicken. Universal home care would bring tremendous relief.

It’s been disheartening to see the misleading attacks on Question 1. Folks with very deep pockets are misleading about how much this would cost in taxes. The truth is, 97 percent of us would not pay a cent more. It would apply only to annual individual income over $128,400 that’s currently exempt from Social Security taxes.

Making sure the wealthiest Mainers pay their fair share, so everyone can receive the care we need when we need it, seems to me common sense and part of what it means to live in a community. I think the real “scam” is that for-profit nursing homes and health care are protecting their business interests at our expense.

My mom assures me that she doesn’t want to be a burden, but caring for her is never a hardship: The real burden is that we don’t have a system that supports our collective responsibility of caring for one another. Everyone deserves a dignified quality of life at home with their families. I want my mom, and all the older adults in our lives, to feel that their presence in our lives is the gift that it is.

In this difficult time, when there are so many topics on which we can disagree, this is one where we can find common ground and provide some light and inspiration to create a more caring future of which our children and grandchildren can be proud.

Whether it’s my mother, my parishioners, my daughter or myself, we are all better off living in places that feel like home, being able to be with the people we love and strengthen the communities we have built. Universal home care — and saying yes to Question 1 — can help all of us live brighter, fuller lives.

Rev. Dr. Myrick Cross is priest-in-charge of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Brewer.

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