More options needed for elder care

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To the Editor:

During the Edgartown election, I was heartened to read in The Martha’s Vineyard Times that both candidates for Edgartown selectmen’s seat, Art Smadbeck and Gail Gardner, mentioned elder care as something that, if elected, they planned to work on during their term as selectmen.

Here on the Island, we have many services available to help the senior population while in their homes:, Elder Services, Meals on Wheels, community services and senior centers in every town, just to name a few. There is, however, a huge gap when it comes to a place for the elderly to go when they can no longer safely remain in their homes.

My family and I have been caring for my mother in her home for the past four years. In 2014, my mother suffered two strokes that left her unable to walk. We have done well for quite a while, but in the fall of 2017 it became apparent that we would not be able to give my mother the care she needed, even with a full-time caregiver to help us.

Assisted living like the Henrietta Brewer House and Long Hill would not be options because she needed more care. So we turned to our only nursing home on the Vineyard, Windemere. Never in a million years did we expect to get a denial. The admissions told me, “We cannot meet her needs” when I asked, and I found that not to be able to meet a patient’s needs is a recognized and legal means to deny admission. However, it is also illegal to deny admission based on a disability, such as dementia, which my mother now has, as well as her physical limitations. A nursing home is required by federal law to provide care for those needs. When we filled out the application for admission to Windemere, we were supposed to get an in-home evaluation, and that was never done. Had that been done, decision makers on who is allowed into the hallowed halls of Windemere would have seen that medication adjustments had calmed my mother’s dementia immensely. This is why making a decision like this based only on medical records is not a measure of a patient’s true condition.

The more people I talk to about this, the more I hear that this denial has happened in their family or in a family they know. My mother was born and raised here, married another lifelong Islander; together they raised their family here and worked hard to support their family and support this Island and all of its services, including the hospital and nursing home. Now my mother in all probability will not be able to die here surrounded by her family and friends.

Changes need to happen at Windemere, starting with the admissions panel. We need someone who still has the passion and energy needed for this important and difficult job. Sometimes just a little empathy and feeling can make that denial a little easier to take.

We understand that Windemere is in the red and being supported by the hospital. My mother would be going into Windemere as a full-paying patient, to the tune of over $12,000 per month. We as a family sold the home we grew up in so that we would have the money to care for my mother after her stroke. We were very lucky we had that option. My mother is now on the Cape in a wonderful nursing home, and getting great care. But to have her so far away and not to be able to see her often is not how we envisioned her future.

Diana Butynksi, Joyce Look, Chris Look III
Edgartown