Washingtonians for a Responsible Future

A Stretched Family

Rita Norquist, Olympia

“My ninety-six-year-old mother has been living with me for seven years. When she moved in I still had four of my twelve adopted kids living with me. Now I have two kids at home. One of my kids is in college, and the youngest is eighteen. My youngest has been fighting cancer for a year. He is in Seattle Children’s Hospital where he received a stem cell transplant and will have a second transplant soon. It’s been difficult to take care of everyone physically and financially. I had to find someone to care for my Mom because we can’t afford long term care for her and Cody. I have to live in Seattle during his cancer treatments. In the beginning we thought we would be here a month or two. Now we will be here until the middle of June. I don’t know what I would do if my friend couldn’t watch her. It takes every penny I have to reimburse my friend and there is no place she could go if my friend can’t watch her anymore. I don’t know what to do.”

-Rita Norquist, Olympia


Lu Hamacek, Lacey




Aunt Jean with her Nephew Jack









My aunt passed away this last July. She was in a convalescent center as a long-term care resident and eventually a hospice patient. She had moved to Washington from Ohio in 2001, and was in an independent living apartment for a number of years before her decline. Even before this decline started, four of her nieces and nephews were contributing to her monthly rent, because the money she had from selling her home was running out and her only other income was social security. The monthly amount from social security and selling her home was nowhere near sufficient for rent or other living expenses, such as food and clothing. She had no insurance of any type to lend assistance. Once the move to assisted living, with its increased cost, was approved, we were no longer able to continue contributing, having already expended considerable savings to her monthly needs.

    I was no longer able to find work that would allow me to drop everything and assist her as needed. My siblings were likewise feeling the pinch and telling me they could not contribute as before. Luckily, she qualified for Medicaid at that point. Having Medicaid meant that she had to move from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio with no kitchen, and eventually to a shared room in the convalescent center. While the staff was good to her, she never recovered from the indignity of having to change her home so drastically, after she worked for many years to provide a comfortable retirement. I believe she died more from the depression and feeling of uselessness that followed more than from any physical illness.

-Lu Hamacek, Lacey

Caring for a Sister

Lee Buxton, Gig Harbor


Lee and her sister have been together for a long time



“I take care of my 60-yr old high functioning special needs sister. I am 58. She lives with my husband, two little dogs, and me. Laura is capable of doing many things for herself with monitoring and input from us, but it leaves little time for us to take care of ourselves. I got so frustrated last year I made a call to see what the cost would be for me to pay for in-home help. This is when I found out about short-term care from Medicaid. The biggest thing that has helped us in our long-term caregiving is learning that we can get some respite care through Medicaid so we can take time off and not spend an exorbitant amount of money paying for someone to come in and stay with Laura. I was very thankful for the round the clock care for Laura was able to get while I was doing other things. So, please tell everyone about this. It is so needed for people like me.”

Lee Buxton, Gig Harbor

Liz Black, 83, Spokane, Wash.

Liz Black, Spokane


Liz Black often believes she’s in an airport terminal, delayed and frustrated. Or she’s lost in a busy department store.

But the turmoil has nothing to do with air traffic or shopping. Black, 83, is wheelchair bound and lives in a memory care unit in a skilled nursing facility in Spokane.

The retired anthropologist and former museum director is riddled with dementia.

“She has no idea what’s going on in her life,” said Lorna Walsh, Black’s daughter.

Despite nearly $350,000 in savings and investments, a home and a pension, Black is going broke.

It costs about $7,750/month for her round-the-clock care. Black only has about $20,000 left.

Once that money is gone, Black will qualify for Medicaid, the state’s safety net.

Like many Washingtonians, Black had planned to use her life savings to pass along to another generation. Black was planning to help her granddaughter go to veterinary school. Now, the money is all but spent.

“Her assets are almost gone,” Walsh said.

Black was living independently as a widow, running her home and sharing it with dogs. All that changed several years ago when Walsh said she found her mom nearly naked on the kitchen floor in a state of confusion.

“She didn’t realize where she was,” Walsh recalls. “She couldn’t place herself.”

Black also lost her ability to walk and the combination meant that she’d require skilled care in a nursing home.

Today, she’s physically healthy but mentally unbound.

She often doesn’t know where she is. She believes her wheelchair is a fax machine. She’s haunted by old memories and sometimes believes she’s woefully behind studying for a college exam that would have taken place many decades ago.

“She can go on like this for some time,” Walsh said. “It’s a bizarre world we walk into (when we visit).”

In addition to the emotional toll of witnessing her mother’s decline, the financial struggle also has been a challenge.

“We never thought we’d be in this position, ever,” Walsh said. “It never occurred to me that her medical insurance wouldn’t cover this.”

Having the Medicaid safety net there is a very good thing, Black’s daughter said.

Still, “It is sad that you have to give up everything you worked for in your life to qualify,” Walsh added.