Submitted by Marjorie Grommé
In the August 14 issue of the Signal Tribune Kelly Nielsen wrote of “Love, Duty, and Compassion.” He wrote of the roller coaster of emotions that goes with the job he has undertaken as caregiver for his aging father.
In my younger days I worked for L.A. County in Long Beach. For some nine years I worked with elderly persons who, for one reason or another, ended up badly in need of financial assistance and medical care. In the main part these were not irresponsible people, they were hard working and respected in their communities. Having to ask for help was the most embarrassing thing that could have ever happened to them.
Like Kelly’s father, many owned their own home but were caught in the position of unexpected illnesses. The cost of living had risen beyond their diminishing income. Now came the medical bills and their savings was gone. Many had depended on their job-related benefits; many had none at all to begin with.
Adult children, if they had any, took their parents into their own homes, they, too, struggling to raise their own children and contend with medical problems. This, too, became a problem so that the parents were forced into a position of having to ask for financial assistance from the county (usually when one parent or the other was hospitalized and had no money to pay.) How often I heard the remark that the kids were getting rich off their parents, then called Old Age Security. Oh, how untrue!
We try so hard to keep our parents in their own homes. Aging in Place is today’s motto and is fine in many cases. But as caregivers wear out, finances become strained, the home we have lived in for so many years needs upkeep we can no longer handle; it all becomes too much. So we muddle along, kind neighbors take us to the grocery store, someone takes us to the doctor; oh, “ we pay them for doing these errands, they don’t mind.” Are these kind neighbors licensed and insured to carry paying customers? Probably not.
Having had those experiences when I had a disabling bout of bursitis in February of 2002, I got to thinking about my own position, alone and having to rely on others. I was then in my early 80s, still driving my car, but what if I couldn’t. I loved my condo with the fantastic views, good neighbors, only a few blocks from my daughter and son-in-law, a close-by bus stop, 47 years residence in Signal Hill. As for the bus stop, all up/down hill, no level areas for walking, the nearest grocery store at that time was two miles away. I finally figured out that the time had come for me to do some hard planning. So with pencil in hand and a large tablet I put together the figures. The cost to maintain my then way of living, as much as I loved it, would nicely cover the cost of living at Bixby Knolls Towers (BKT).
Jay (my late husband) and I had answered an “Open house by Invitation” to BKT in 1996. He would have loved living here. I was enough younger than he at the time and he was still in pretty good shape so we figured that “when the time came” there would be no question as to what we would do. He passed away in 1999 after a very short illness and I continued on in our lovely condo until the bursitis episode in 2002.
Once my mind was made up, I called my realtor- my lovely daughter-in-law- to come list my unit for sale, and she did. She had an open house five days later. The place sold the next day with a 30-day escrow. Everything fell into place and I was moved into Bixby Knolls Towers 30 days later. True, the market was right, as was the price and location. In the six years I have been here, I have never for a moment regretted my decision to make the move.
Many old timers in the community remember the BKT building as the John Brown Tower built in 1962-1964 to provide housing for senior Americans. Two years later, due to a failure in marketing, the John Brown Corporation deeded the property to HUD in lieu of foreclosure.
HUD changed the name to Bixby Knolls Towers and offered the property for sale to a non-profit corporation. The Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF) won the bid, taking title on October 6, 1966. Plans for the future of the Tower was as a complete “life care” facility for the elderly with the sale of “life care contracts.” And this is the memory that many in the surrounding community have of this facility.
Today, BKT is still a part of RHF, but on a month-to-month rental basis. It is a senior retirement facility with independent living in its 169 lovely apartments, one of which is designated as an exercise room with plenty of up-to-date equipment. Apartments ranging from spacious studios, one-bedroom, to two-bedroom with two baths with spectacular views from any window, in any direction, on any floor. Three meals a day, cable TV, weekly housekeeping, bed and bath linens included, a small kitchen in every unit, beautifully landscaped grounds, transportation for shopping and medical appointments and religious services, to name a few of the included amenities. The only extra cost is for telephone service and garage space, if you are still driving, making it easy to budget.
I didn’t mean to get off on a long diatribe on the virtues of living at Bixby Knolls Towers, although I doubt they would mind my saying nice things about them. Neena and I have heard so many comments from local people who remember the early plans for this building and have no idea of its present-day use. My lament is that people wait until they have an illness or disability that makes it difficult to remain in their own homes instead of planning ahead and making a move, discarding all of the work and cost of maintaining a home that they can no longer do themselves. Quit depending on those gracious neighbors and the “kids” who are having their own problems. Keep that independence that you so tightly cling to, to a social life that living at BKT or other facilities provide built in. And as your family and friends come to visit, to share a meal, or enjoy a program, they become a part of the other residents’ extended family and others of us look forward to their visits as well.
And that is why it makes me sad to see families struggle with the question of how best to help and care for their loved ones. Especially when that person refuses to recognize that they truly do need help, that they are placing hardship and worry on their loved ones. Bixby Knolls Towers is NOT a nursing facility. Yes, there is such a facility on the grounds, in a separate building, two floors of skilled nursing and four floors of assisted living with 24-hour care. It makes it very handy when we have need of such care. We are still with familiar faces, the same food, and are often able to make use of the facilities on short term eventually returning to our own apartment, just as would work if such care was needed and we were living in our own home. Ah, but this is our home.
Yes, the two elevators get pretty crowded at times; unfortunately, the original use for the building didn’t require more elevators and we certainly could use more today. Mostly we are pretty patient and accept that “that’s the way it is.” There are ever so many more canes and walkers today than there were six years ago. I swear people are living longer and are more mobile. We had a resident who last month celebrated her 100th birthday, still coming down to meals without assistance of any kind, alert and sharp as can be, and a pleasure to have for a neighbor and friend.
So, get out that pencil and paper as I did, talk to your family, your financial adviser, figure what it costs you on an average every month to live in your own home. Be tough with your figures. Then make an appointment for a tour, a packet with facts and figures for the cost of living at BKT, and you will probably find that life at the Towers just might be a very good idea.
Try not to wait until you just have to make a move. Selling a house or condo can take time in the present market, adding stress and strain to an already difficult situation.
As the regular readers of the Signal Tribune know, because Neena wrote about it, I had a round of chemo this past winter, my cancer now pretty much in control. I am feeling better than I have in a very long time. I will tell you that I have been so very glad that I was living here during this trying time. I had a fantastic support group all the way from the staff to my fellow residents. Luckily I was never sick so that I was able to go to the dining room for meals. I did have to give up my volunteer work in the garden, which I loved doing, and upkeep on the weekly fresh floral arrangements for the lobby over a year ago, and I miss it.
Like most of you, I did not want to be a burden to my daughter, my one and only, and I did not need to be. That was the beauty of already being established here, life went on as before, I was just not as active for a few months. Luckily I was able to drive myself to my own chemo treatments after the first couple, but knowing that transportation was available as part of my rental agreement if needed was invaluable. No need for Neena or Steve, no matter how lovingly willing, to take time from work to take me for my injections… and that’s my story.
Submitted by Marjorie Grommé