Wow, January flew by! Just as many of us have imagined, this new year is off to a busy start, but I know we are all glad for a sense of new beginnings. It seems like the challenges of the past two years have continued to follow us into this new season, but I’m inspired and optimistic as I continue to see the strong community and support that cares for our seniors. The hard work we all contribute has proven to prevail time and time again.
Here at Empowered Aging, we’re diving into the new year with a lot of growth on the horizon. Thanks to the time, dedication, and support of our donors and community members, our programs are touching the lives of thousands of seniors across our region daily. But we need even more help to continue to expand our reach. In this newsletter, we’ll be sharing more information about this month’s CalMatters article (and our contribution to the news), new job openings, volunteer opportunities, the impacts of our MSW Internship program, and some very important news items that I hope you will dig into.
Thank you to all of you for your hard work throughout our communities, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this email. If you or someone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team by calling 925-685-2070.
In the elder care industry, we all too often hear about the struggles of finding the right housing for old adults and adults with disabilities or the continual and very devastating issue of “patient dumping.” But what we don’t hear about, is the overwhelming number of impoverished nursing home residents who find themselves stranded in facilities unable to return to their homes and their communities. In an article published this month in CalMatters, Executive Director Nicole Howell shares her insights from years of on-the-ground experience, “You would be shocked by the number of residents who could live in a much less institutional level of care,” she said. “Unless an ombudsman comes across it and knows to ask, people just end up languishing there.”
As you can imagine, COVID has only created more of a problem for this category of residents. As the article reports, with over 73,000 residents infected and over 9,000 deaths, those who can and should be able to leave need help now more than ever. Our friend, Karen Stuckey, from Choice in Aging, who has been helping residents transition out of nursing homes for over 11 years, also weighed in on the matter, stating, “everybody wants out right now, they’re just there because they have no place to go.”
Other shocking statistics shared by this piece include:
• “Over 9% of California nursing home residents, an estimated 37,000, have low-level care needs and could potentially live in the community, according to a 2017 estimate by the American Association of Retired Persons.”
• “In 2020, California nursing home residents made nearly 14,500 requests to learn about moving back into the community, according to data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Only a third of those requests were fulfilled, the federal data show.”
• “CalMatters found, there are few consequences for nursing homes who fail to ensure residents’ requests are granted. The California Department of Public Health does not penalize facilities that fail to follow through on residents’ requests.”
• “A 2016 report by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights found that most nursing homes “never ask, or nearly never ask” residents the question about their rights and living options.”
And that’s just a short glimpse. This article goes into much more detail about these neglected rights of residents, sharing more stories of “trapped” individuals, the unimaginable neglect of resident requests, and the lack of accountability for transition failures. We share this piece in hopes you will pass on the word to your acquaintances and colleagues. The time is now for us to take a stand and raise the voices of those who cannot or don’t know how.
Please note, “This story originated with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, with SCAN Foundation funding.”
When we started the MSW Internship program here at Empowered Aging, we were thrilled for the opportunity to work with budding individuals to help grow and enhance the elder care industry. Our first intern was a hard-working student named Nicole Lapointe, at the time attending California State University, East Bay. Her overall goal in joining this program was to gain work experience with the aging population. “I had no idea what an ombudsman was, initially,” Nicole said, “but I quickly grew to realize how critical the role is. I learned so much about seniors, aging, dementia, long-term care, skilled nursing facilities, and just a number of things that have come to impact my job daily, in primary care medical social work.”
During her time in the internship program, Nicole worked with several Vietnam Era Veterans, an experience that has come full circle and serves her well in her current position as a Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) Social Worker at the Department of Veteran Affairs. In this position, she works as a member of a Veteran’s core medical team. “I utilize all of the tools I learned while interning as an ombudsman, and I truly feel that I am able to excel at my job. I didn’t know at the time this is where I would have ended up, but it feels like it was meant to be in terms of where my career landed. I was exposed to so many WWII Veterans allowing me to have real, meaningful conversations with a generation of individuals on a different level.”
“Connection is why I became a social worker, and sharing these insights reminded me how much I cherished my time serving as an ombudsman and how much I miss the work. We don’t realize how marginalized our senior and aging population is until we are faced with it through someone close to us. Quality, affordable long-term care is one of the hardest things to find. Whether the placement is at a skilled nursing facility, assisted living facility, or a board and care, having an elderly client fall through the cracks is heartbreaking and unacceptable. An Ombudsman truly advocates and stands up for human rights, dignity, and respect for all older adults living in facilities. I am incredibly thankful for Nicole Howell, Diane Healy, and others who do such a phenomenal job at Empowered Aging. It was hands down one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had.”
Nicole’s story is another example of how the MSW Internship program here at Empowered Aging lends a voice and brings change to our elders. It has guided many students, often leading them down a career path they didn’t know possible. If you’re interested in supporting a new generation of senior service providers, who may one day serve you, consider giving to Empowered Aging today by visiting EmpoweredAging.org/Donate.
Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Katie Kovach
The work that we do at Empowered Aging wouldn’t be made possible in large part without our volunteers. This month, we’re proud to recognize Katie Kovach, one of our Friend Visiting and Telephone Reassurance Volunteers. Katie is a third-year student, double majoring in Psychology and Human Development at UC Davis. Katie shares that she was driven to volunteer at Empowered Aging because of her mother, a social worker in hospice care, and felt that working with Empowered Aging would give her more insights into her mother’s career.
Katie is an avid volunteer and has worked for years with groups that provide resources such as therapeutic horseback riding for disabled children, enrichment programs in schools, animal enrichment, and care at the SPCA.
“I find that volunteering allows me to learn more about the world in an active and engaging way. My favorite part of working with Empowered Aging has been learning life experiences and wisdom from my elder friends. I’ve learned about what it’s like to live in other countries, how to create homeopathic skin care routines, and so much more!”
Outside of work and school, Katie is an amateur photographer and likes to cook, hike, and read. One of her goals is to hike in all 50 U.S. states! We’re proud to have you as part of our volunteer team, and we appreciate all that you do.
Are you interested in joining us as a volunteer at Empowered Aging? Then, we’ve got a spot just for you! For more information or to apply for our Friendly Visiting and Telephone Reassurance program, visit https://www.EmpoweredAging.org/Friendly-Visiting.