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a tale from a society gone mad

Everytime you drive on a road, enter a school building, visit a hospital, drink water from your faucet provided provided by a dam, you use the services provided by the elderly. Now, they are losing the last support society offered after a life of hard work and great societial support.
Ethel died last weekend. She lived by me. I tried to visit her as much as I could. She lived on social security. that's all she had...about $400 a month. She loved her apartment. She had a small garden. She started working when she was 16 years old. After she retired she volunteered for services to the elderly and ran a meal program.

She was 89 when she died. Up until a few months she had senior services. She suffered from light dementia and could not remember everything. But she could remember that the biggest fear of her life was that she would end up in a nursing home. She had a lady who came several times a week to help clean, cook meals and help her get to her doctors appointments. She was doing well.

Her senior services were cut. She hired a private pay helper. She could only afford to pay someone to shop and cook for her. The lady would not clean take her to doctor appoinments. Ethel could not afford that. She started feeling bad a month or so ago. She told everyone that she was doing fine. She was afraid to go to the doctor because she was afraid she would be put in a nursing home. Her long-time caregiver who she lost, would have been able to comfort her and would have taken her to the doctor.

I went to see her a couple of times in the last week and took her food. Her apartment was a mess. I called Adult protective services and they promised me they would go and see her. That was over a week ago. I also knew her helper was going to come and see her the next day. I went to see her last Friday and no one had come. She had been in bed for several days without water or food. I called an ambulance. They took her to the hospital. She died the next day. She had advanced cancer. She must have suffered terribly for those last days.

There are very few senior services left. Most of the social workers who worked in Adult Protective services have been laid off. The services Ethel had probably cost the state $100 a month. A nursing home cost $3,500 a month. If she could have found one that would take Medicaid. Many nursing homes won't take Medicaid because they say the government will not pay enough to cover all the costs.

The generation that are our elders now helped to build the infrastructure that we use daily. Everytime you drive on a road, enter a school building, visit a hospital, drink water from your faucet provided provided by a dam, you use the services provided by the elderly. Now, they are losing the last support society offered after a life of hard work and great societial support. What happened to us. We have gone mad. My heart is breaking.

We have gone mad 08.May.2003 05:40


it is sad to see how bad things are turning. Nothing is looking good. everything is being made in the name of greed and for the few that have the hold of this country. Hopefully if more people start to see life as you and the lady you cared about there will be hope. I share your sorrow for the lady and for this whole country.

Nothing more than a tearjerker 08.May.2003 08:03

Seville seville11@yahoo.com

Let's pretend for the sake of argument that the story is true. You had the means to help in your very own hands. You could have cleaned her home or part of it. You could have taken her meals daily instead of once. You could have went door to door to talk to your neighbors informing them, enlisting their help, getting them involved.

Instead you made a phone call and shrugged it off. Now it's someone else's worry. Forget it. You did your duty. Ho hum. Back to TV. Awwww... she died. DAMN THE SYSTEM!

Severe Seville 08.May.2003 10:47

M. Barchette

What a sad and cruel commentary by Seville. Do you not think that such a situation could happen to someone for whom you care, or even to you? Yes, this story IS a tear jerker and it is a hopeful sign that such a story can still move many of us to tears. Seville, why do you find this so hard to believe? These stories happen every day, everywhere around the world. Have some compassion for your species. We all need each other and we all need to help when and where we can.

you have told me what I wanted to know 08.May.2003 11:23



I did all the things you say I should have done. I cleaned her house, I took her food, and I talked to her neighbors. Her neighbors said it was not their problem. They said they did not want to get involved. One neighbor promised to call her everyday and see how she was. Each time the neighbor called, Ethel said she was OK. I could not get her to open her door so I could not see how she was doing in the end. Only by calling a ambulance could I get the door opened. The last three days I assumed her caregiver was coming to see her and fixing her meals. The woman had disapeared. I trusted that protective services were coming to see her. They told me they would. The system that we were used to is gone. People in this country are not used to caring for one another. I can tell by your tone that you could care less for other people. You are a taker not a giver.

For others who care...

remember there is no longer a system of care in place. People have lost their jobs and have moved away or have other jobs to do and cannot be checking on all thier ex-clients. Please be aware wherever you are. Go to visit people. Check their refrigerators and see if they are eating. Offer to pick up food for them when you go to the store. Help them with thier laundry. Have them walk with you to see if they can walk anymore. Help them to clean their places and plant thier gardens. Help to take care of thier pets. These pets may be a huge part of the reason they even care to live anymore.

There are lots of predators out there who would take advantage of all the elders left behind by the war machine.

To Ethel 09.May.2003 10:51

A Mom

Z, you did good. I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It seems to me that the effort to show someone that they matter is so small and so important. Caring about someone if they can't meet there own needs is paramount to being alive. In this society, a person is ridiculed to care for others and not get paid. "We must take care of our own needs" "We must take care of our own needs" It is true but other people matter. Children and Elders need extra help. This is how life continues. Not a 'tear jerker' --- seville ---life. Maybe you could go somewhere and find a way to honor Ethel. Maybe bring some flowers to an Elder at a local nursing home or bring a treat that you like. Maybe you can go clean someones toilet if that is more your thing. Or talk the neighbors into doing it. love is all

Building community 09.May.2003 10:59

Salmon Girl

I'd like to help out, but I don't know where to begin. Is there any sort of resource for getting volunteers hooked up with elders who live independently? I'd be glad to bring someone a meal once a week, check in with them, take them shopping or whatever. If 5-7 people were willing to adopt one elder, no one would be spread too thin, and there would always be resources to fall back upon.

My own mother is in her 70s, and I've made sure she knows she is welcome to live with me if she wants to. She will always be welcome and cared for in my home. This is the old way of doing things, and it is a good one. When did we start treating our elders like things to be warehoused?

Portland Impact Senior services 09.May.2003 12:10


Portland Impact Senior services has an organized "friendly visitor" program. They will train people to help elders on what ever level you can give. This program will locate elders in your area and hook them up with people who care and who are safe. Senior Services help elders manage their lives so they remain independent in their own homes.

* Transportation and escorts for appointments and shopping
* Activities and trips
* Tax and legal assistance
* "Friendly Visitor" volunteers

Location: Southeast Multicultural Senior Center
4610 SE Belmont St.

For more information, please call (503) 988-3660


The other thing you can do is look around you and see who is there...there are lots of elders who have become invisible to most of us because of all sorts of culture and political reasons. Might be someone in your neighborhood or apartment building who need just someone to listen and bring them flowers once in a while.

One way to help 10.May.2003 09:35

Mother of Sam

An excellent way to put ideals about community into real and substantive action would be to get to know your neighbors. I work in Legal Services, and I have met a lot of "Ethels" lately. One huge issue is that many many senior and disabled people in Oregon lost their coverage for prescriptions. These people were in the Medicall Needy program, which covered prescription drugs for people on Medicare, which provides NO drug coverage. Since the budget cuts, people are being evicted from nursing homes, shelters, have their oxygen tanks repossessed, etc. Some, like Ethel, are getting by on a meager SSI payment. So, for those of you who want to help, here is one very practical thing to do. Check with your older neighbors, and find out if they have to pay out-of-pocket for their medications. Then , look up the medications on www.rxassist.com. Then help your neighbor fill out the application. These are applications for free meds through the manufacturers. A lot of people are too sick and overwhelmed to do this on their own - lots of paperwork, but if you could help just one person, think about the practical impact that would have for them. If you are interested in doing this and have questions about the process, email me at:  mmona@lclac.org