Friday, February 3, 2012

Nursing care costs are unsustainable

Allow me to put a face on the medical care crisis facing this country. I'll never forget the first words of a Blaine Manor resident who had stage IV lung cancer, for whom the doctors now could only prescribe "comfort measures." She had never smoked a cigarette in her life.

"Do you know why I'm here?" she asked. I was taken aback by her frank and obvious need to communicate her reason for being in Blaine Manor, the only 24/7 skilled-nursing-home facility in the Wood River Valley.

As the activity coordinator, I am apprised of the condition of new admissions and intended only to ask state-mandated questions pertaining to her interests in activities of daily living, which usually bore or irritate the interviewee. But, she beat me to the first question, and before her death six months later, her residence at Blaine Manor revealed a personal and national problem that no politician, doctor, nurse, pharmacist, insurance executive, caregiver or bus driver seems to have an answer for.

In order for this resident to live out her remaining days in an "end-of-life" facility, she had to reverse mortgage her home (where her 92-year-old mother was still living with the 24/7 vigilance and care of a nephew), petition Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, and benefit from a Blaine County levy, which comes to an end this August.

The cost for her six-month stay was beyond what millions of Americans make a year. It definitely exceeded her highest yearly income after 40 years of working as a secretary. Had she survived an entire year, her cost would have been above the yearly national average of 24/7 skilled nursing care—$83,000. An amount, I'm guessing, higher than what 80 percent of Americans make a year in wages.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

I'm here to ask everyone who says nothing can be done to change this unsustainable model of health care a simple question: "Is it in our national interest to bankrupt people so they can die in a nursing home bed?"—a bed that has no rails because the state mandates that a resident has "the right to fall"!

Michael Ayers

Activity coordinator

Blaine Manor

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