State of Vermont
Dear Committee Members,
I am testifying on behalf of my parents, Arne and Ingeborg Henriksen, ages 96 and 94 who have resided in Readsboro, Vermont for the last 26 years. As a family, we began to plan for their care 12 years ago. They were accepted into the Choices for Care Program five years ago at which time they required approximately 10 hours a week to help with meals and general cleaning. Today, they require 85 hours per week and the 720 hours a year of respite care for which they both qualify. My mother is legally blind, very hard of hearing, has severe osteoporosis, severe dementia and weighs approximately 90 pounds. She is totally dependent on care for her toileting needs, dressing, feeding and safety. My father, a left arm amputee is dependent on his Walker, can eat independently, has moderate dementia but needs all of his meals prepared and can no longer care for his home or his personal needs without support.
Their primary care worker whom they trust and are dependent upon arrives at their home at 7:30 in the morning Monday through Friday and does respite care on Sundays from 8 AM until 2 PM. A second caregiver arrives at their home on Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM. My parents needs require 24 hour supervision. During the remaining time, my sister and my son care for them. I am home every day by 4 PM at which time I prepare their dinner. My son, who resides with me, arrives at 5 PM eats dinner with them and remains there until 7 PM at which time my other sister stays with them until 8 pm and puts them to bed. My son then returns to their house where he sleeps in their spare bedroom overnight with a monitor in his room to listen for their safety needs. My sister and I juggle our schedules on a daily basis to ensure that my parents have coverage 24 hours a day. The respite hours are needed to ensure that their needs are safeguarded seven days a week, 12 months a year. In September of this year my sister and I went away for 36 hours. It was the longest we had been away together in two years. Being away for 36 hours required weeks of planning to ensure that someone was with them 24 hours a day. My parents, as well as the majority of elderly people, do not respond well to strangers entering their home and caring for them. We could not as a family care for them without the two main care takers that they have to provide personal care and respite care.
I have a physical disability and when I was born relatives suggested to my parents that they institutionalize me. They never did nor will I institutionalize them. As a society, we do not institutionalize our physically, mentally or emotionally impaired individuals. Yet, we seem to not give it a second thought when it comes to institutionalizing our parents. I know that my parents would not be alive today if they were separated and not been allowed to grow old together gracefully and in their own home supported by the people that they love and depend on. Cutting these hours will affect the quality of care that they get as it will force family members to take on more responsibility increasing their stress level and in turn affecting the quality of care they can give to their parents. As it is you have cut back the rate of pay for these care workers. In order to keep quality care, my parents have supplemented their personal care givers salaries at a cost to them. Perhaps the people making these decisions affecting the care of people they do not know need to walk in their shoes before making any more cuts.
When I read this letter to my parents my father said that if he were asked to testify he would want you to know that there are not many 90-year-old couples that get to live out their lives in their own homes. He also wanted you to know that while their circle of friends is quite small now they do have each other for support. They wake up every morning and talk of memories of Norway, New Jersey, family and friends. There’s not a morning when he doesn’t wake up and realize how lucky he is when he sees Ingeborg, his wife, lying next to him and listens to the house as it slowly wakes up. We are cared for during the day by the most wonderful people, not strangers, who have become part of our family. They provide us loving care, laughter and support.
I have always believed in the saying what goes around comes around. Hopefully, when you are elderly and dependent upon others to care for you the law makers in charge of helping you will have compassion and empathy to make the right decision.
Helyn Strom Henriksen