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The Importance of Advocacy: Falling Through the Cracks

Today, as families around the world celebrate together! I’m posting an email from a friend that touched me deeply.

My friend is a financial adviser with a heart of gold.

Her email points to many of the issues this blog attempts to bring to the forefront: Aging, Caretaking, Advocacy.

Thank you B. I want to help!!

An eye opening day today. And yes, I know a holiday is coming and I don’t mean to be a buzz kill but this day has left me thinking. About a lot of things.

I went on a trip to the Bronx early this morning with an attorney who I work with on some mutual clients and we send each other referrals when possible. We share a mutual client who is in an “asssisted living” facility on East Gun Hill Rd in the Bronx. Not an area you want to hang in. The 2 and the 5 train to Gun Hill Rd. Look it up on your MTA map. No place you are probably going to go anytime soon.

We took a car service up there and not a subway. We had the luxury of doing that. We needed to see her to have her sign off on power of attorney, a new will, living will, etc. This lawyer was going to become her power of attorney. I had spoken to her beforehand as had the attorney and we felt she was highly competent and understanding of what needed to be done. She agreed to see us at her facility, so off we went early this morning. I have had the experience of being in assisted living facilities in Beverly Hills, CA and Westwood, CA. Also been to them in affluent communities in Massachusetts. Nothing prepared me for what I saw today.

As a preface to this story, she has been my client for 17 years. She was at one time, the Executive Assistant to the President and CEO of one of the big three accounting firms in the country. A household name, recognized globally. She was 43 when I met her, she is now 60. Never married. No children. Lived a very quiet, lonely life. Always seemed to go to work and not much else aside from that. She was also clinically depressed.

When 9-11 happened, she was working in the North Tower. No one in her firm was killed and everyone evacuated safely because the firm was on a lower floor.
However, she was never the same after that day. Each time I saw her for a meeting, I noticed a subtle change in her–slightly more depressed, more anxious. She would often described to me what she witnessed that day.

One day she called me to tell me she was being asked to move from her rent controlled apartment. Not unusual as tenants are asked to leave all the time when a building wants to convert.
She was given a substantial sum of money as a buyout and she moved. Two years ago, she came to see me for a regularly scheduled meeting and something seemed very off. She was dissheveled and she seemed off in some way. She told me she was being asked to leave this new building she had moved into. I started to put two and two together and I suspected that maybe she was a hoarder and perhaps that is why the buildings had asked her to move. So I asked her whether she had this issue and she told me she did. I asked her if she wanted help psychologically and she said she did, so I referred a few doctors to her. Well-respected and well trained to treat this disorder. She did not call any of them as it turned out.

One week later, I received a phone call from her brother—a person I knew she did not connect with or have a relationship with. He told me that she was discovered by building management in her apartment, unconscious having had a stroke. Her small dog had died and was in there with her. I knew she also treasured this pup.

Building management broke open the door to find her lying amidst all that she had collected–they estimated she had been on the floor for a few days. She was rushed to a hospital where her other brother began to make arrangements for her care. She “recovered” but was hospitalized for a long time and then was sent to an nursing home and then finally to this “assisted living” facility where I saw her today.

I guess I am writing this to talk about what it was like to see this person who I knew in a completely different capacity now tied to a walker, diminished physically by a stroke, slurring her speech, yet understanding everything the lawyer and I said to her. When she saw me, she burst into tears. I realized that maybe we were two of her very rare visitors. I held her hand and told her it would be ok, knowing that not only wouldn’t it be–but that it very clearly is not ok for her.

I also noticed immediately that she had aged tremendously. Her hair was white and not well cared for. Her teeth were a mess and obviously not cared for. Her arms were bloodied.. I could tell she had been bitten by bedbugs many times over. She told me that was the case and said there was no real level of care at this place. I was struck by the sounds of this place. People speaking loudly over intercoms, a tv blasting in the lobby. People looking at it–staring but not really watching. There were too many residents and not enough staff. Why was my client in a place like this ? She did not have to be here. She needed to be somewhere but not here. Why was no one advocating for her ? Where was her brother–the one who she did have a relationship with ?

She had no picture ID so we had to speak to someone in the administration office to get a picture ID, so we could get her into a bank and get documents notarized. They gave us separate documents–her picture on one and her signature on another. The lawyer and I then had to get her into the town car that was waiting for us. It took us 20 minutes to get her from the inside of the facility , down 10 steps, and get her into the car. No one from the facility helped us. We went to Chase and they refused to honor the documents becuase the signature and the picture were on separate pages.

They advised us to go to a local funeral home and told us the owner of this funeral home in the Bronx would probably notarize her documents for us. So off we went for another drive down Gun Hill Rd to the funeral home. We had the car service driver act as one witness, I was the other and she signed the documents. The funeral home director noted her competency and he notarized the documents. The lawyer could not do this because he is serving as power of attorney.
We then finished up what we went there to do and we brought her back to the facility. We walked her to the elevator. I hugged her goodbye, the lawyer hugged her goodbye. We were in a state of disbelief on the way home. The lawyer and I couldn’t get over how unfair life has been to this client. How it is so easy to fall through the cracks. As my client told me today—“Once you go to a place like this, your friends forget who you are.” I knew she had a couple of close women friends and I asked whether they ever came to see her. She told me that they had been there once—last Memorial Day.

The more I do this work, the more I have looked at money differently. When I started in the business, it was in the early to mid 90’s. Everyone wanted money, everyone made money. The market was rolling along. No one had problems it seemed. As the years have gone by, I have seen a different side of money and what it does to people. Yes, it can create beauty in the world, can give rise to solutions for many a crisis. I think when it is all said and done, I am liking less and less of what it does to a lot of people. Money enables. Money empowers. Money creates a sense of entitlement and class division. Money solves problems, but it also creates them. It creates huge problems that suck the joy out of daily living for a lot of people. Money does not make a person happy or rich of spirit. Money creates a facade sometimes. Money can ease pain but it can also create pain. Money is a weapon. I have seen money used in some pretty awful ways and I have seen it and the material possessions surrounding it cause psychic damage to many. I am person who invests money. who helps people achieve their financial planning goals. I am also a person who spends most of my time counseling and helping people work thorugh their conflcts and their dilemmas around money. Today took me to a really dark place with a client I have known for almost two decades.

This client has money . She is not one of my wealthiest clients but she is a woman who saved as much as she could and she built a really nice nest egg. She has money that could allow her to live elsewhere—in an assisted living facility that is cleaner, where the care is better, and in a much better neighborhood. Because she suffered a stroke and suffered from depression and was single, she has had no one to advocate for her. As a result she wound up in this hell hole I was at today.

I am not sure why I am sending this e-mail really. I don’t know if it is about money, or the importance of having someone to watch over you. Or about both of those things. But I am home now, profoundly sad to have seen a client who I cared for , possibly living out her life in this place. With no one to advocate for her except me and my lawyer friend.

I constantly bear witness to the best of what life can bring (marriages, new babies, milestone anniversaries) but I have had my share this year of some truly tragic circumstances involving clients who I really cared for. Today was unlike anything I have experienced and I wanted to share that with you. We are blessed in so many ways. We have friends. We have each other. We have health. We have kids. We have dogs and cats. We have kids. More importantly, we have hope. Hope is everything. Today I saw someone who has none of this. I left feeling mostly powerless and sad. It was a terrible feeling to walk away with. Once we got back into the car, the lawyer and I promised that we would try to get her out of

there, into a better place, hoping we can work some magic with her brother to make it happen.

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~ by Butch on December 24, 2013.

One Response to “The Importance of Advocacy: Falling Through the Cracks”

  1. […] Having a Medical Advocate from fellow blogger Butch […]

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