Washingtonians for a Responsible Future

“Our seniors deserve to be able to age with dignity”

Eileen McKenzie-Sullivan, Tenino

My name is Eileen McKenzie-Sullivan, and I am 61 years old. I live in Tenino, in the 20th district and my state legislators are Senator Braun and Representatives Debolt and Orcutt. For the past five years, I have been taking care of my 93 year old mother, who has congestive heart failure, in my home. On a good day, Mom can do a little more for herself, but I primarily help out with light housekeeping, laundry, cooking, and helping her get her compression stockings on and off.

There is no question about me and my family taking care of my mother – there really is no other way. Before my father died, my parents had a bit of retirement savings put aside. But then my father had open heart surgery and most of their retirement savings went to the medical bills for that, so my mother has very little left for herself now. She needs help, but she doesn’t have the funds to employ people to come into our home to do it, and she doesn’t want to trouble our neighbors and friends, so she mostly goes without.

Being home alone is Mom’s only option. She’s lonely. She can’t go out a lot because her diuretic medications means she needs to be close to the bathroom. She could do a daytime senior center, but most of them close around 3pm, and what would happen until I get home from work after 5?

Having people come to the house would be the best option, but we can’t afford that. Ideally, we would have someone come to the house for 2-4 hours a day, 3-5 days a week, to check on her and help her out with housekeeping, laundry, just the things that keep people comfortable in their homes. I’d love to have someone help her with cooking. Right now, we rely on microwavable meals for her, but they are all very high in salt, which is terrible for someone with congestive heart failure.

She is by herself at home all day while my husband and I are at work, and that worries me a lot. She has had a few falls while I’m at work. She has a MedicAlert but won’t push it because it’s embarrassing to have the fire department show up at the house, so she lies on the floor and waits for me to get home. I can’t lift her by myself, though, so I still need to get help to get her up.

The financial impact of caregiving is tough. I often need to take time off of work to take her to doctor’s appointments, and I am lucky that I have the flexibility to take time when I need to. My supervisors understand my situation, but tolerance goes down when it goes on for years. Her doctors are about 20 miles away, so the cost of gas adds up.

Sometimes I think I should retire early, but if I retire between 62-66, it means I will only receive 74.2% of the Social Security benefits per month. If I retire after 66 and 3 months I would get 94%. And of course, both of these are still less than I would receive if I retired at the official age of 67 and a half, when I would receive full Social Security benefits.

My mom served her country as a World War II Navy nurse. Later she worked as a psych nurse – these were very difficult jobs, but she worked hard her whole life. Why don’t we take better care of the people who have contributed so much over their lifetimes?

My mother has Medicare, but no Medicaid coverage. For the most part, Medicare doesn’t cover in-home care like what would help us the most. There needs to be change because retirement communities and assisted living community are too expensive. They may have given mom more socializing outlets but would take all her disposable income from her.

Our seniors deserve to be able to age with dignity and obtain affordable care at home, and it should not be so hard on the families that help make that happen. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.

-Eileen McKenzie-Sullivan, Tenino