Obamacare: Poster child for government bloat, incompetence and inefficiency

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(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

I wonder how many people who are marching in the streets in favor of keeping Obamacare have purchased insurance off the Marketplace.

I have. For the past three years, in fact. And the year before that, I had coverage under the Medicaid expansion, which is the only part of Obamacare that I think is worth fighting to keep. It’s a matter of public health.

My Congresswoman, Cheri Bustos, recently said on the floor that repealing Obamacare won’t “make America great again,” it will “make America sick again.”

She’s great at sound bites. Cheri spent a decade as our local regional health system’s PR queen. She even offered me a job there once as corporate writer.

I’m not going to get into the scare tactics Cheri used in that minute-long speech I linked to above. It makes me sad that our local politicians think we Quad-Citians are fools that just gobble up their spoon-fed gobbledygook.

But I will tell you what my experience with Obamacare has been, speaking both as a health journalist and as one of the “hardworking Americans” Cheri represents in the 17th Congressional District (the one bordering scandal-plagued Aaron Schock’s district).

In 2014, I greatly benefited from Obamacare under the Medicaid expansion. I was working, but had just gotten back into the workplace after taking time off to care for my elderly father. I was being paid $75 per story for Healthline News. It took a while to build a name for myself as a health reporter and attract new, better-paying clients. The Medicaid expansion was a great thing, because it allows working people, with a modest income, to have affordable (free) healthcare.

I had to also apply for food stamps to get it (which I did not want or need, but that was part of “the rules”). One could argue the $12 per month in food stamps that came along with my Obamacare was inconsequential, but $12 per month times 12 months in a year times how many Americans (?) adds up fast. Why force acceptance of a benefit that someone doesn’t even want or believe that they need? That makes no sense and is a waste of money.

My first Marketplace plan offered little more than a monthly bill

The second year, 2015, I was making a little more money, and I purchased a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan off the exchange. Technically, I could have stayed on the Medicaid expansion, and the food stamps, once business write-offs were figured into my 2015 income. But I was proud to be off public assistance (although grateful that I got it when I needed it, and I don’t think anybody should be stigmatized for taking food stamps or Medicaid).

In 2014, I survived what I believe was an attempted homicide (it’s on the books as an assault) that left me with a PTSD diagnosis. The diagnosis was made almost exactly one year to the date of the assault, when I had a flashback of the incident. I immediately reported all I remembered to police, along with some other pertinent information. It’s not unusual for people with PTSD to have memories suppressed for a year or even longer, and it’s also not unusual to recall them around anniversary dates.

The flashback itself led to another horrifying experience – being stripped naked and thrown in the Rock Island County Jail on no charges at all, for two days. Congresswoman Cheri’s husband is our sheriff (he was appointed to the elected position after the previous sheriff was forced to resign in disgrace; it’s widely believed the previous sheriff was framed, allegedly for harassing a woman).

You can read about how and why I ended up in jail here. I’m still waiting for a public apology from the County of Rock Island.

Read more: Officeholders of elected positions in Rock Island County routinely not elected

The hospital system Cheri worked for, by the way, recently opposed construction of a psychiatric hospital in nearby Bettendorf. A board that grants “certificates of need” declined Strategic Behavioral Health’s request after both hospitals claimed we had enough beds with more on the way. This, despite testimony from the Scott County sheriff (on the other side of the river, who said he’s supposed to be running a jail, not a mental hospital), and numerous mental health advocates. Everyone here who is honest who works in mental health knows that our system on both sides of the river are a disgrace that are costing lives, even if they won’t admit it out of fear of losing their jobs. Those who claim otherwise are simply fooling themselves.

No, instead we just throw scared people with PTSD in jail around here and hold them there two days on no charges. Naked. In solitary. And taunt them in ways that will make a great book someday. I’m excited to get started on it!

Is this Rock Island County, or Soviet Russia? I’m still not sure sometimes.

The board that denied the “certificate of need” for the psychiatric hospital includes a retired employee of the hospital system Cheri worked for. His name is Bob Lundin. I always thought he was a nice guy when I did business with him as a reporter for the Quad-City Times. But talk about a conflict of interest. Most news reports never even mentioned he was retired from UnityPoint Trinity, which opposed construction of the hospital along with Davenport’s Genesis Medical System. You can read all about that outrageousness by clicking here. The board is comprised of several people with strong ties to both hospital systems that monopolize our community.

Outrageous.

At any rate, my first year on my own with Obamacare cost me, gosh, about $150 per month I guess. My premium is about double that now. Not much more or less than what people who have coverage through their employer pay, I imagine. I’m just one person, of course. No dependents.

So that first year that I had Obamacare off the exchange, BCBS paid for two psychotherapy visits related to my PTSD diagnosis. I paid the rest, at a cost of $280 per month. You hear about how Obamacare has expanded mental health and addiction treatment access. That’s true to some degree, but it’s a charade in many ways, too. Just look at my situation. President Trump vowed last night to expand access to addiction treatment services. I hope he keeps that promise.

It goes without saying that I did not want Blue Cross Blue Shield for 2016 (although I have them now and so far it’s a great plan). But check out this piece I wrote in October 2015 – Blue Cross Blue Shield tried to enroll me again for 2016 even before open enrollment began. The buck-passing and jacked-up-edness (I just made that word up) involved in that incident was nothing short of hilarious.

Gross incompetence: Marketplace can’t find records of my insurance

The third year I had Obamacare, I purchased United Healthcare Silver Compass, considered a top tier plan, off the marketplace. UHC was a disaster from day one (although UHC was not always directly to blame…the state and federal bureaucracies created screw-ups, too). My pharmacy benefit got screwed up at the state level, but was rectified after I wrote about it. Click here to read that piece. Sadly, not everyone has a platform like I do. I wonder how many people have lost hundreds or even thousands of dollars due to ACA screw-ups, regardless of whether they were performed at the state or federal level.

Now, as I file my taxes for 2016, the exchange is claiming I did not have insurance for October, November or December and will have to pay a penalty. IN FACT, I got an email from the exchange in September (see below) telling me that if I was on target to make more, or less, than I thought I was going to make when I applied for my 2016 Marketplace insurance, that I needed to let them know.

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Because I am honest (to a fault…at least that’s what my brother always said…”David, you tell on yourself”) I called the exchange and told them I was indeed having a better year than I expected. They assured me that I would continue to have the exact same UHC Silver Compass insurance, but that my subsidy would drop considerably. You can make up to $52,000 annually and still qualify for a subsidy.

Well, that’s not exactly what happened. They canceled Silver Compass and gave me a different UHC plan (that was substandard to Silver Compass and nothing but problems…co-pays went up, etc.). And yes, my subsidy plunged. Which was fine. My income was higher than I previously thought.

Let me tell you something else. All those jokes about “the death panels” that never happened? My psychologist had to have regular telephone conferences with the UBH (United Behavioral Health) psychologist to discuss the details of my case, as they felt my twice-weekly cognitive behavioral therapy sessions for my PTSD were unnecessary.

I am involved (as a victim) in two very serious criminal investigations (which I am certain involve all the same villains). I did not like my insurance company knowing my business. To me, this is somewhat akin to the death panels. Whatever happened to HIPAA? Actually, a personal injury lawyer here in Rock Island told me once that “HIPAA is a myth” and, in fact, doesn’t mean a darned thing. I can hear all the hospital employees launching rotten tomatoes at me now…I’m just saying what he said! And he has been known to get people lots of money!

So today the Marketplace told me they have no evidence of me being insured October through December. Therefore, my 1095 statement (which shows your subsidy and proof of insurance, and is required with your tax return) only will show the Silver Compass insurance of January through September. So in theory, I will have to pay a penalty.

Below, you will see the email welcoming me to my new plan in October. All my premiums were paid, each of the 12 months of 2016, and never was I uninsured.

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Yes, Obamacare created jobs. Bureaucracies. More AFSCME employees. More layers of nonsense.

I wonder how many rainforests have been destroyed with all the paperwork associated with Obamacare. UHC pulled out of the 2017 exchange, and now I have BCBS again (and this time, so far, an AWESOME plan, paying 100 percent of my twice-weekly CBT sessions at the psychologist and $0 co-pay on my blood pressure and other meds).

But even though UHC pulled out of the exchange, I recently received a five pound, “Welcome to United Healthcare 2017!” book in the mail.

I could go on and on about the mailings, which never make any sense at all. And I’m a writer. It’s like they’re written in Chinese. Plus, they email you, too. Keeps people employed I guess, on your taxpayer dollar! Inefficient, “job-creating” bloat.

Two parties, two beauties representing 17th, 18th Congressional Districts

Lastly, let me talk to you about the 17th Congressional District. We are a polite people. A simple people. Hard-working people. We don’t talk much about politics. We generally believe what our politicians do simply has to be honest and what they tell us all true (though that confidence is fast, fast eroding around here).

The Quad-Cities is mired in corruption, as you can read here. And here. And here.

The Congressional District right next door to us (the 18th Congressional District) once belonged to Aaron Schock. But the dashing young GOP Congressman now is facing criminal charges for using taxpayer money to decorate his office like Downton Abbey, among other things.

Peoria (the 18th Congressional District) is much like us simple folk in the Quad-Cities and Rockford – hard-working, mannerly, trusting. Too trusting.

Like Shock, our Congresswoman is a beauty – voted 8th most beautiful person on Capitol Hill, in fact! Yes, it’s true! You can read about it by clicking here.

It’s fine to not talk politics out of politeness. But please pay attention to your politicians and what they’re doing. Don’t blindly vote for one politician or another. And hold their feet to the fire. Always. Participate in the process. Dig beneath official news reports, because most of that comes from press release rewrites from the politicians themselves. Local media outlets have been slashed to the bone and don’t do the type of old-fashioned watchdog reporting anymore that is so essential to keeping our corrupt politicians honest.

Please. Ask questions. Call their offices when things upset you. Let them know you’re watching their every move as it pertains to honesty, ethics and being lawful.

I sure do.

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And the Oscar goes to…. (My first Academy Awards picks column. Ever.)

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For almost my entire life, I had no interest in movies. Whatsoever.

This, even though I lived a decade in Los Angeles, rubbed elbows with lots of people in “the industry,” and even met a few celebs along the way – at parties, on dance floors, even in the young adult support group at the Orange County Center for Gays and Lesbians.

I wrote a LinkedIn column a while back about my first (and best) roommate and friend in Los Angeles, Dale Mayeda. Dale, once a cog in the wheel at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, went on to win an Oscar for special effects in “Frozen.” As I said in that column, that is just how true the idea is that with hard work and determination comes fame in Los Angeles.

And maybe that is the reason so many people are predicting “La La Land” will be the big winner on Oscars night. It is that quintessential L.A. story, and it is portrayed by two quintessential L.A. beauties.

But hasn’t it been done? About a million times?

To be honest, I nearly walked out during the first 10 minutes. Singing during a traffic jam on the freeway? Could it get any more cliché? It’s sort of like the saying, “L.A. is a caricature of itself.” Which is true.

I’m glad I didn’t walk out, if for no other reason than to stare at Ryan Gosling (and Emma Stone, too) for a couple of hours and enjoy the incredible music and cinematography. And a cute story.

But ladies and gentlemen, if “Hidden Figures” does not come out the big winner of the night, the Hollywood libs should have their toaster ovens revoked! Not only were they criticized to kingdom come a while back for the annual milky whiteness of the Academy Awards, but they remedied it – and in no small fashion.

“Hidden Figures,” to me, not only is an incredible story, but it’s being told at a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Never has it been more important for us to remember the struggle that African Americans faced all those years ago. Never has it been more important a time in our nation’s history to remember that even rocket scientists faced that struggle.

Never has it been more important for us to remember that once we were a relatively cohesive nation of hope, of pride, and that the space program played a big part in that.

This is the right time for “Hidden Figures” on so many levels.

With that, here are my picks for the 2017 Oscars winners:

Best Picture: Hidden Figures. No further explanation needed.

Best Directing: Hidden Figures. It’s brilliant. You’ll want to leap out of your chair, burst into laughter, utter “hell, no” out loud, and cry. Many times.

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land. She really is that cute girl who goes to L.A. to become a star, who sometimes you think is gonna make it, other times you think doesn’t have a prayer, and when she does make it, you say, “Of course she did.” And that really is how it works out there.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. Hands down. In the first five minutes, I said, “That guy has PTSD.” And his character in the movie obviously does, even though a diagnosis never is discussed. You find out why soon enough. And the story is so compelling, that even if the end isn’t the end you were hoping for, it is the end that makes sense, for everyone. Brilliant writing.

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea, for all the above-mentioned reasons.

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures. She’ll help you understand that the way African Americans were treated so many years ago, was so wrong. On so many levels. For those of us who did not live through that era, and grew up in the northern U.S., it’s difficult to comprehend. But you will, after seeing this movie.

Best Supporting Actor: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea. He’s the popular kid in high school who is popular because he’s truly a great kid. We all knew that kid. At least one.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Hidden Figures.

Best Animated Feature: Moana. I must go with that because it’s the only one I actually saw on the list of “Best Animated Feature” nominees and because my above-mentioned friend, Dale Mayeda, has a prominent credit at the end for special effects.

Best Cinematography: La La Land.

Best Film Editing: La La Land.

Best Production Design: Arrival. I liked this movie a lot, but not necessarily because I found the story all that interesting (too complicated and far-fetched). I liked it because it had a unique wow factor on the big screen.

Best Costume Design: La La Land. They both were so darned cute.

Best Original Score: La La Land. That one should be a gimme.

Best Original Song: “City of Stars,” La La Land. Another gimme.

Best Sound Mixing: Arrival. Watch it. The sound is one of incredible things about the movie, in addition to the overall viewing experience. But the story? Again, not so much.

Best Sound Editing: Arrival.

Best Visual Effects: Deepwater Horizon. Not only did the leaking well look real, but it has happened, and in that regard, it’s a wakeup call. The movie did a public service. It’s also just incredibly cool to see what life living on an oil rig is like. Every ounce of it is believable, yet horrifying.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond. Lots of interesting peeps and things, for sure.

And I must stop there, because I don’t proclaim to know a darned thing about the other categories.

But I sure am proud of myself to have written my first ever “Oscar picks” column. Where did my ADD go? I don’t know, but going to the movies at least once a week is a part of my routine now, and probably is the most enjoyable couple hours of my life each week. I love it.

Hooray for Hollywood!

A prayer that my Scottish neighbor goes out singing like her friends back home

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Editor’s note: This piece originally was written last year for Caregiver Relief. Special thanks to Diane Carbo. My neighbor died just days after this was written, presumably alone. Her nieces, who lived out of town, came to the funeral, a memorial service which was held several weeks later. The state seized her belongings to pay her bill at the county-owned nursing home, where her son, her caregiver and a veteran, had died just weeks before. Due to the dysfunction in the state of Illinois, her house (which she rented) still is not ready to rent again because of multiple delays in the state’s seizure and auctioning of her property.

By David Heitz

It’s politically correct in America to gush about how wonderful our country’s hospice programs are, and many of them are quite good.

But in Scotland, there’s a hospice that will totally change the way you think about caring for the dying. At Strathcarron, patients not only stay in their homes for as long as possible, but once a week they attend “day hospice” and truly celebrate life – even singing regularly (and with gusto, I may add) with other hospice patients and hospice staff.

Between belting out tunes that relay the stories of their lives and having their pain monitored, they also make good friends with others who are struggling with the reality that the end could be near.

The hospice hit U.S. shores last year in a documentary titled “Seven Songs for a Long Life” that debuted at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in Austin, Texas.

You can learn more about the film and watch a trailer by clicking here.

The cast of characters is delightful – an elderly gentleman full of spunk who refuses to admit he is dying (he even refuses to sign a form crediting him an extra 100 pounds a week because he only has six months to live); a motorcyclist who had to leave the speedway when his MS became too crippling, but at the hospice learns to manage his pain; the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, who has a story that will break your heart but also inspire you with her courage and words of wisdom in the face of death; and Mandy, who is nothing less than the hospice nurse we want all of our loved ones to have in their final days.

The film’s cinematography is especially meaningful. It captures the beauty of the hospice, its people, and the Scottish countryside itself. My former next door neighbor is Scottish and spoke fondly of her homeland. Sadly, she recently became a ward of the state and was removed from her house and placed in a nursing home, just days after her son who cared for her died. Her son, a veteran, faced a long delay in seeing a doctor at the VA in Iowa City and eventually succumbed to cancer.

‘These patients are hungry for life’

As I watched the film, I thought about how wonderful it would be if my neighbor could be back in her homeland getting TLC at a place as wonderful as Strathcarron. Life sure doesn’t seem fair sometimes.

Amy Hardie, director of the film, told me there is no “day care” hospice model in the U.S.  The hospital in Scotland is funded in part by the U.K. National Health Service but still needs to fundraise a significant amount of money each year to stay open. It’s not easy in a working class area.

But the development director, a key cast member named Jim Brown, manages to pull it off by raising the needed 3.9 million pounds every year.

“It means that patients can stay at home, but know that each week they are coming in for a day where they will have expert medical attention by people they have got to know over months and often years,” Hardie told me in an email interview. “It is also a day where they meet with the same other patients who have a terminal illness, who are confronting their own mortality, but are often able to be kept pain free and mobile.

“These patients are hungry for life – they may know they are going to die of their disease, but there is life to be lived right up to the end, and hospice care is about helping them to make that life as fulfilling as possible – hence my role as film-maker in residence. No-one wants to be defined as a patient – singing was a potent way for the patients to show that they were more than patients. A song holds so much – the past, in the memories of when and where you sang the song, what the lyrics meant to you then – and also the present, when you sing, now, to the audience, connecting through the words of the song, an expression that goes beyond words; and somehow also the future, a promise of a future and a future when the song will remain, with you singing it, on the film, even if you are no longer here. It was the patient’s idea to sing, and they chose the songs. I was bowled over by the power and urgency of their singing. Each song shows how very alive they are, right up to the moment of death.”

Not all hospices are created equal

We hear so much these days about hospice not being what it used to be, no longer that sad, end of the road where patients are prepared for their inevitable deaths and given time to let that all sink in while being pumped full of morphine.

Today, people with various illnesses sometimes go on and off hospice several times. While they’re on it, they get music therapy, massages, spiritual support and other pampering. Their family is given support too.

But not all hospice providers are created equal, as I wrote last year in this piece for Caregiver Relief.

When my dad went on hospice the first time, he was nowhere near death. He was placed on hospice so that he could legally stay in his assisted living facility as opposed to being moved to a nursing home. He had become what is known as a “two to one” – meaning it took two employees at any one time to deal with him. He displayed outrageous behaviors due to his disease, behavioral-variant frontotemporal degeneration, or Pick’s, which you can learn more about clicking here. So having hospice workers come to the assisted living facility gave them extra help in caring for my dad.

Illinois law requires patients deemed “two to ones” be placed in nursing homes, and that is where my dad should have gone much earlier on in his illness. But hindsight is 20/20.

Just before filing this story, I called the nursing home where my Scottish neighbor was taken a few months back to check on her. “Sir, she is actively dying,” a terse nurse explained, quick to cut me off from speaking.

I became a little emotional and began to explain I was writing a piece about this film and that I had thought of Monica, since she is from Scotland. “Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but…”

Yes, I know. You’re busy.

“Yes we are.”

Click.

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‘Killer Lesbians’ describe PTSD from spending years locked up

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This piece originally was published on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

It was intended to be a fun night out on the town for the seven Jersey women of color – a night in the West Village of New York City.

They enjoyed being around other gay people while visiting the neighborhood of the historic Stonewall Inn, the birth of our nation’s gay rights movement. But as the documentary “Out in the Night” shows, it ended up being a night filled with harassment, violence, and trauma that endures to this day.

The documentary by filmmaker Blair Dorosh-Walther can be purchased on DVD by clicking here.

As these women strolled along that summer night in 2007, the last thing they expected was for an older black man to get up in their face and talk filthy – especially not in the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

But that’s what happened. When the man first said, “I want that,” tiny Patreese Johnson thought that he simply wanted a drink of her friend’s Pepsi. Sitting by a fire hydrant, he looked a little down and out.

Patreese had seen her share of struggle – her brother was caught up in a gang fight when she was 11 and then shot dead by police at the age of 17, caught in the crossfire.

But when the man pointed at her crotch and said, “I want THAT!” and followed by “D-ke B-tch-es” and “I’ll f— you straight and put my d— in you’re a–,” they had enough.

Renata Hill, another of the women, had been raped by her mom’s husband when she was a child. She wasn’t about to listen to all of that.

Ultimately, the man laughed at the women, struck them, and a fight ensued. In fact, he pulled out Renata’s dreadlocks, leaving her weaves on the concrete and her scalp a bloody mess.

And ultimately, the women defended themselves. Patreese, who carried a small knife for protection at the plea of her brother Anthony, stabbed the man.

Black, female, gay: Marginalized to the edge of the margins

Black. Female. Gay. Three demographics in this country that have been marginalized for years, all rolled into one. Even in New York City, many people still don’t get it.

“Lesbian Gang-Stab Shocker” screamed on headline. “Hated by Lez Gang” read another. “Killer Lesbians,” yet another.

But the headline that really ticked of Dorosh-Walther? “Man is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger,” read a story on an inside page of the New York Times.

To borrow a phrase from one of my dearest departed gay friends, the headline “blew her skirt up.” It wreaked of ignorance, and added insult to injury appearing in a newspaper of authority such as the New York Times. That’s when Dorosh-Walther knew she wanted to tell these women’s story.

But as a white woman, she wanted to make sure she could tell it right. “You want to make sure you tell the story accurately through the lens of the person or people who experienced it,” she told me.

I spoke with Dorosh-Walther, Patreese, Renata, Venice brown and Terrain Dandridge (the other two women who went to prison) on a conference call for about 45 minutes. Dorosh-Walther was excited to have the movie reviewed on a health website.

Some of the key takeaways from the film ought to be an understanding of what years of harassment and trauma can do to someone, or a group of people. It’s also important to remember that being locked up in a penitentiary forever changes people. Indeed, it leaves many prisoners with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And then what happens when a person gets out?

“When people are released from prison, they give you a bus pass to get on the bus, or the subway,” Dorosh-Walther said. “They have no support, no family, a one-way ticket…you’re going to put them on public transportation? You’re putting everybody else in jeopardy. This is a public health issue.”

Nuns take in ‘damaged goods” ex-felon

“After going through all of this, and you’re done with your time…you’re damaged goods, and you’re being thrown back into a brand-new world,” explains Renata. “You’re thrown into a cage. You’re separated from those you love and care about. You have no support system. You’re paid a few cents per hour. They control you, belittle you, verbally abuse you, some physically abuse you.”

When Renata was released, she was taken to a shelter in New York City run by nuns.

“I had to stay in New York, and I’m not from New York. I never went to New York, unless it was to go to the village,” she explained. “I had no family support.”

Renata said she was extremely grateful for the transitional housing provided by the nuns, because some people don’t get any transitional support at all. On the other hand, being black and being a lesbian – a lesbian who speaks earlier in the film about wearing a dildo when she goes out into the village – it’s not difficult to understand the discomfort she felt.

“Simple things, like going to the corner store…I couldn’t do that,” Renata said. “In some ways, I still felt stuck in the same place. I had to go to parole. I had to enlist in a drug program, even though I never did drugs. I had to pi—in a cup while they watched me.”

When asked how she got past feelings of anger and self-pity that must have been going through her mind, not only in prison but afterward too, Renata’s answer was simple: “What kept me going was knowing I had to get my son back.”

Renata missed several years of her young son’s life while she was a locked-up single mother. When she was released, she learned she had lost custody of T.J., who had been put into the hands of the state of New Jersey.

“I had to look for a job, and when I looked for a job, with a felony…I never even was given a chance to explain my situation,” Renata said. “When you get out of prison, where is the help? Where is the toolbox?”

A frightening experience for a femme

“In prison, you have to develop a certain type of thinking to survive,” Patreese said. “Everything there works different.”

Tiny, femme and poetic, Patreese served more time than any of the women…almost eight years. She looks about as threatening as a church mouse, and she readily admits that being in prison messed with her head.

“I said, ‘Am I going to take these meds?’ Some of these people deserve to be in a mental health hospital,” Patreese recalled of being medicated in the prison. “But as I found out, they were giving the meds to me anyway, and I didn’t know it. They gave them to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to talk to somebody. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I should just take the meds just to get through day to day.’”

Almost two years after her release, she still struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. “Our mental health should be a priority when we get out. It’s really hard when you’re trying to transition back to society. When I’m lost, I’m even scared to ask for directions. There are no resources for us.”

Dorosh-Walther agreed. “This is a public health issue. Mental health is something we’ve never put enough resources into. Mental health, far down the line after release…is a lasting issue.”

When Patreese and the others were convicted, one headline read, “Guilty Gal Gang Weepy Women” while another proclaimed, “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty.”

How to get past injustice? Baby steps

“When you come out, you come out with ‘institutionalized thinking,’” Patreese said. “It’s something similar to PTSD. You end up getting changed by the system.”

The fact that people in that condition often end up being sent out the door with no support network at all is “absurd,” Dorosh-Walther said. “If there is nothing to transition you to live in the outside world…. or only a tiny fraction of services…how are you even supposed to get housing?”

As a journalist, I often get caught up in anger and a relentless drive to spread the truth whenever I see an injustice. I do it whether the victim is someone else, or, has been the case a couple of times in stories I will describe in my upcoming book, myself.

How do you get past it, I asked the women again and again?

Finally, Dorosh-Walther answered for them.

“You don’t really have time to comprehend the injustice and the pain,” she said. “There are hoops to jump through over and over and over again. You’re court-ordered into a shelter, for example. They are not going to make anything easy. It’s just piled on, piled on and piled on, and at some level you’re in survival mode and you’ve got to keep moving forward.”

The women said being able to tell their story via the film has helped them heal a great deal.

I can relate to that.

“It’s baby steps,” Terrain said. “There are moments it feels good, like we can celebrate. Other moments we’re still struggling.”

And I can relate to that, too.

In the end, where did hard work and determination get the Long family?

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This piece originally was written last year for Caregiver Relief as one of several point-ups to the presidential election. Reprinted here with permission. Special thanks to Diane Carbo and Rhonda Long.

By David Heitz

Rhonda Long’s story is one of a middle class, hardworking family that is getting the short end of the caregiving stick.

Rhonda and her parents do not qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid pays for long-term care for the elderly, but only once they become completely broke.

Medicaid also provides day care for the elderly, which, in theory, gives a caregiver time to work a part-time job, since so many people have to quit their full-time jobs to take care of mom and/or dad, like Rhonda. But in so many states, like the despicably fiscally irresponsible state of Illinois, even those services are being cut. The front page of my local newspaper, The Rock Island Argus, read yesterday: “InTouch Adult Day Services to Close.” The reason? The state owes it $6 million in Medicaid payments. They just can’t keep going. (Editor’s note: InTouch later was taken over by a private company from Lutheran Social Services, but I am not sure of the current status of the services it provides).

What will happen to these people? Well if their children choose to care for them, they likely will end up on welfare while trying to also get by with mom or dad’s small Social Security check. If the care ends up being more than a family caregiver can handle, and it can be under such difficult stresses and circumstances such as dementia-related illness or both parents ill at the same time, the state will intervene and place the parent in a nursing home. Once the parent is completely broke, the state will pick up the $5,000 to $8,000 monthly nursing home bill. When it’s all over, the states goes into the homes of these people and auctions off all of their belongings to make up the difference. The children are left with nothing.

Related News: Dementia-friendly America communities help elderly stay in their homes longer (Click on the link to learn more)

Rhonda long has wondered why the government can’t pay caregivers a small living wage, or at least foot the bill for respite care so they can get a part-time job elsewhere.

But with the state of Illinois at least proving unable to do that for even the poorest of the poor, one wonders how it could be accomplished for the children of people drawing Medicare. I guess lottery funds would be one idea. Of course, everyone likes that going to the schools.

Something to think about: When we care for our children, we get to see them grow up and care for themselves. When we care for our parents, they only get worse.

Not a pretty picture, but it’s reality.

Meanwhile, Rhonda has lived with her mom and dad in their house for 11 years. “They had helped me out in a time of need and in return I told them they would never see the inside of a nursing home as long as I could help it,” she told Caregiver Relief. “I honored my commitment and continue to do so.”

Rhonda’s dad passed away in June. She is pictured with him here. Through the years Rhonda’s dad had four heart attacks (Rhonda quit her job after each one) and eventually chronic kidney disease, atherosclerosis, PAD, spinal stenosis, dementia and many other ailments. After his fourth heart attack, he became bowel and bladder incontinent.

He died at home in June, under hospice care, but it was very difficult for Rhonda and her mom.

Now, mom has Alzheimer’s. Remarkably, Rhonda feels “guilty” about having a meal to herself now that dad has gone. At least mom is in good enough shape were she can leave the house a couple of hours a day.

But let’s face it. Mom won’t be that way forever. Memory care, if you dare trust any of those facilities (memory care is a social model, not a care model), costs about $5,000 per month. A nursing home? At least a thousand per month more. And remember: No help caring for your elderly parents until they are broke. Click on the link to learn more.

“In the last 11 years I have been away from this house for my own pleasure a total of 32 hours,” Rhonda told Caregiver Relief. “And I had to beg for that. I love my brother deeply, but he just doesn’t get it. I went through and beyond caregiver burnout.”

Rhonda said that in retrospect, “I think if we had the money, respite care would have been very beneficial for all of us. I would have been able to be refreshed emotionally, and I would have had some time to be a daughter and not always the caregiver.”

So in the meantime, Rhonda lives with her mom in a house that has a reverse mortgage. When her mom dies, Rhonda will be an orphan and homeless.

Rhonda’s questions for President Trump: Why can’t the government pay caregivers a small living wage, or at least foot the bill for respite care so they can get a part-time job elsewhere?

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Judy took care of her parents and husband. But who will take care of Judy?

judys-parents

This piece originally was published before the presidential election for Caregiver Relief, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission. Special thanks to Diane Carbo and Judy Morton.

By David Heitz

You will find that among caregivers, we don’t hesitate to just step right up when we know someone we love very much needs help.

In the beginning, it may not seem like we’re doing much. Frequent stops at mom’s or dad’s home just to say “hello,” to check and make sure that the house or apartment is not in disarray, that he or she has food and is eating, that they still are able to laugh and joke.

Our thanks? Often, we are accused of “just mooching.” Surely our motives can’t be pure, particularly if mom or dad ever helps us out.

Even when our parent becomes incontinent, combative, and the constant falls begin. Even when some sort of terminal diagnosis is made, or a dementia-related illness, the feelings of ugliness between siblings usually are set in stone by then. We are insulted, because instead of a thank you, we are treated like freeloaders.

Related News: Caregivers for elderly parents are the new ‘working moms’

Our non-caregiving siblings so truly want to believe that we are somehow to blame for the financial drain the disease took, that forgiveness (for what, I am not sure), or an apology on their part often never happens.

I remember early on after dad’s diagnosis of behavioral-variant frontotemporal degeneration going to our local elder ombudsman organization, which I can only describe as worthless using the nicest of terms. They told me, “We don’t do that” when I asked for a family counseling referral.

When our parents are finally dead and buried, it doesn’t matter. We know we did the right thing. And our parents certainly knew all long. But it doesn’t mean we don’t want all of America, including those running for president, to know what sorts of suffering we endure and why it has to change.

Caregivers often end up financially devastated

“When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was 31, working as a career office temporary,” Judy Morton tells Caregiver Relief. “At first, I visited him whenever I could, after work and on weekends. One day, a nurse told me that my dad said he always felt better when I was there, because he knew that I would take care of anything that came up.”

Shortly thereafter, Judy took a leave of absence from the agency and spent the next months taking care of her dad, both in the hospital and at home. “It created a financial hardship for my husband and me, but neither of us regretted that for a minute. I was able to give my dad comfort and security, and I was able to give my mom the gift of just being with him without having to do the hands-on care.”

Soon Judy became the “default” family caregiver whenever anyone needed help. And so it goes.  “Since for most of that time I was still working as a temp, and I also spent 10 years behind a chair as a hairdresser, it was easier for me to take off when needed,” Judy explained. “And I don’t have children, so my sisters felt it was ‘only natural’ that I should do what needed doing, since I didn’t have a ‘family’ to care for. My husband did not appreciate this attitude from them at all.”

And the next thing you know, Judy was caring for her uncle too, her mother’s youngest brother. Because of her, he got to spend a final two weeks in his home before dying in a hospital.

And mom? Well by this time she was becoming more and more frail and developing memory issues. “After consultation with her lawyer, mother granted me Power of Attorney.”

Sibling v. sibling: A binding caregiver contract can keep families out of court

In the end, mom had Parkinson’s. She suffered a massive stroke in the hospital, along with pneumonia. Eventually she died from a fall.

“As her Parkinson’s had worsened, and even before it was actually diagnosed, I was having to take more and more time off from work to take mother to medical appointments and deal with her finances,” Judy explains. “I lost a week of work when her in-home aide stole her credit cards, checks, and car.

“Canceling the cards, getting copies of everything, writing letters…It took me 13 months to get it all finally settled – and we could not get the police to arrest (the alleged perpetrator).”

Next came the estate, which often is the even uglier fight after the long caregiving battle. Judy tried to go back to work in 2009. She was offered a job as a file clerk for $9 per hour.

Read more: The people caring for your parents live in poverty

And now her husband has cancer.

I’ve been a journalist for three decades, and am quite the cynic. But folks, stories like Judy’s are anything but fiction. Our presidential candidates need to wise up to the fact that we have 11,000 Baby Boomers per day turning 65, and a nation ill-equipped to care for them. What this means is that a generation of caregivers are going to be the next burden, broke from caring for their parents, unable to care for themselves, fraught with mental problems, substance abuse problems, and broken families.

Please help.

Read more: Caregiving at what price? Coping with drugs or alcohol while taking care of mom or dad

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Aging gay people struggle to find support and community

dennis

This piece originally was published June 28, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

When we enter this world, we’re defenseless. We need someone to care for us to survive.

And when we’re in the sunset of our lives 70, 80, 90, or even 100 years later, we’re often in the same boat. This is truer today than it ever has been. Modern medicine is allowing us to live longer, but not necessarily better.

And another truth: Remember when you were little, how scary it was to be alone? Remember what it felt like when you suddenly were separated from your mom at Kmart? Elderly people often are frightened to be alone, too.

Many end up moving in with their children, as I reported in this feature I wrote for the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa in 2009.

Many gay people find themselves especially vulnerable in their golden years. Most elderly gay people today don’t have children to care for them. That’s a reality that’s changing for future generations of elderly gays, but for now, it is what it is.

And just like many elderly people, gay people often find themselves old and without a spouse or a partner. Let’s face it – gay marriage only became the law of the land in this country in June 2015. And many elderly gay men in particular not only have lost their spouse or partner, but they did so many years ago, tens of thousands of them to AIDS.

And one more harsh truth faced by some older gay men: They’re living with HIV. It’s good news that they’re living and have made it into their golden years. But some were brought back from the brink just as new drugs hit the market. That means that some of them were unable to work and sock away money for retirement during their prime earning years. You can read more about that in this piece I wrote for Healthline News.

Sound depressing? That would be one way of looking at it. But that’s not the angle filmmaker PJ Raval takes in “Before you Know It,” a must-see film that you can learn how to purchase by clicking here. You can watch the trailer by clicking here.

I can only describe it as incredibly uplifting, albeit brutally honest.

PJ followed three elderly gay men for five years, from 2009 to 2013. There’s Robert, the crotchety owner owner of the oldest gay bar in Texas, in Galveston. He calls himself, “Robert the Mouth, the Ugliest Girl in the South.”

And Ty, a black man in Harlem who works for SAGE. Ty lives a pretty good life, but without an organization like SAGE looking out and offering support and community to elderly gays in Harlem, that likely would not be the case. You can learn more about SAGE and their work with elderly gay people in this piece that I wrote for Los Angeles Times Content Solutions.

Finally, we meet Dennis, or “Dee” as he calls himself when he goes out dressed as a woman. Like Ty, a Navy veteran, Dennis also served his country, in the Air Force. After military service, Dennis worked 30 years for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was married to a woman during that time. When his wife died, he finally came out as gay, and later as a cross-dresser.

None of these men have it easy, especially not Dennis. But this remarkably uplifting film shows how they boldly moved past isolation, stigma, and hardship to squeeze every last drop out of life as they edge closer to going over the rainbow.

“When people watch this film what I’m hoping they take from it is that the aging process doesn’t discriminate,” Raval said. “It’s actually something that happens to all of us. And gay men are facing some of the most extreme examples of ageism, isolation, without a family structure, often single and with no children. They have to make their own communities and find their own communities.”

Cross-dresser finds peace at gay retirement complex

Dennis winds up finding community at a gay retirement complex in Portland, Oregon, called Rainbow Vista. At the age of 82, Dennis still lives there today, paying $745 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. The facility no longer offers meals – it’s essentially just a place to live, and for active seniors only.

But Dennis remains active, taking gay cruises and even going out for a cocktail now and again dressed up as Dee. It’s not something he ever would have done prior to moving out of his water-damaged trailer in Florida several years ago after finding Rainbow Vista on the Internet.

“I was married 30 years to a woman and kept everything under restraint,” Dennis told me Saturday while aboard a ship cruising through the Great Lakes and Erie Canal, ending in Warren, Rhode Island. “In Florida I never ‘dressed’ because of the community attitude. Dennis says rainbow vista is “no frills” but adds, “I love the companionship I’ve found there.”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking scene comes near the end of the film. As he takes a final pass through his trailer before leaving before Florida for good, he declares his family won’t mind that he’s gone. “I’ll be out of sight, out of mind. For years they just tolerated me.”

It’s a sentiment so many of us now all too well, even those of us who are not seniors yet. I asked Dennis how he got past such hurt, and got a response that warmed my heart.

“I have been reconciled with my family,” Dennis said. “I think that the pope’s comments helped.”

There’s a heart-warming scene, too. I hate to be a spoiler, but you won’t want to miss Dee riding aboard the “TG Girls” float in the Portland, Oregon Pride Parade.

Sucking Downs Suds and Cigs at the Gay Bar

Robert “The Mouth, Ugliest Girl in the South” not only finds community where so many gay people find it – a gay bar – but as the bar’s owner, he’s the one who provides that community.

In many communities, the gay bar still is the only town square for gay people. In conservative Galveston, Texas, Robert has provided that town square for many, many decades, but not without hardship.

While it may sound like a sad life on the surface, for some elderly gay men, sucking down cigarettes and suds at the local gay bar is the only community they’ve got.

Robert’s Galveston gay bar bears striking resemblance to a gay bar in my own community, as a matter of fact, at least in terms of the extremely direct banter.

In one scene, a drag queen who works for Robert begins to very frankly declare what those who judge elderly gay men who frequent gay bars – and “chase chickens” – can do with themselves.

She has a point. These men often don’t have anyone beyond the fellowship at the bar. I’ve been in that situation myself during lonely periods of my life. I’m sober now, but how quickly I forget the fellowship I received at the local gay bar when I needed it.

“I worry sometimes about this emerging view that the LGBT community is so widely accepted,” Raval said. “It’s actually not, and these seniors are examples of it. Not everyone is a 22-year-old living in the Castro District with a gym-ready body.”

A sad irony in all of this is that gay community itself is very much to blame for placing eternal youth ona pedestal.

We don’t stay young forever, and many gay people do end up alone. It’s often a parent’s biggest fear when their gay child comes out to them.