Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wading in unfriendly waters

I have often thought that if I were to seek another career, a selfless one, it would be advocacy for the elderly.

(Of course, I'd much rather pursue music or art, the things that I really enjoy. But those pursuits would be for my own interest and enjoyment... which is not very noble. Sigh.)

I've spent a ridiculous amount of time lately "chasing my tail"—trying to set things right with our property taxes, making sense of the many statements coming from various medical suppliers, fighting for Highmark coverage of damage caused by my recent concrete face plant, and sorting through electric bills in order to discern who, exactly, is our supplier... I've racked up hours on the telephone, more hours reading and creating forms and documents, experiencing deep frustration and annoyance at every turn.

Through it all, as I make minute, circuitous steps toward reaching various finish lines, I think of older folks who are attempting to do the same awful work. People who, by and large, are not familiar with computers, and complicated forms, and the parking arrangements downtown. People who may or may not be able to read small print. People who often have even less money to work with that I do.

It depresses me to imagine that sort of scene. While sorting through countless medical statements, I keep thinking how many elderly people I know would pay them without a thought, even though most of them are EOBs (explanations of benefits) and not invoices at all. Incidentally, this theory of mine has been proven many times through conversations with the people who work for dentists, doctors, and utility provides. The workers have all confirmed what I suspected: that the older generation doesn't want to be beholden to anyone and will often pay a non-bill out of fear of penalty.

I'm sick when I picture these unfortunate folks enduring the nonsense I've been experiencing for months now. Grandmothers and grandfathers, gray-haired widows and widowers, grizzled old fellows who meet and drink coffee all day, and little old ladies who love their TV shows and hair appointments... I'm sure that they, too, are assaulted by the same amount (or more) of denials, threats, and misleading non-bills that befall nearly all American adults on a regular basis. And I cringe when I picture them pulling out the big ol' checkbook to pay, pay, pay these people so they stay in the financial clear.

I did a quick search to see if there are volunteer advocacy groups where a younger person can sort of "champion" an older person in need of support and help. I didn't really find anything. It seems that most of the advocacy programs are handled at a higher level (translation: government-run, which makes me run away), or controlled by a larger company that is already supplying something to the public in general (and therefore also to the elderly). And when I think about how much information I need to have to figure this stuff out for myself, I realize how personal a relationship would need to exist between the giver of such assistance and the recipient.

Maybe it's just a matter of reaching out to elderly family members, friends, and neighbors so they feel comfortable asking for help when it's needed. Would they ask? Would pride keep them from asking? Would they be offended if I offered to help sort through paperwork and online information? I guess I'd offer anyway if I thought help was needed, even if I feared insulting them; I'm a straight shooter, and I'd rather err by being too pushy than by keeping a respectful (read: unconcerned) distance.

There's at least one good thing about my possible future career: if I ever go this route, I'll know I'm doing it because I want to help people. God knows how much I despise doing that kind of detective work for myself and my family; I can't imagine that navigating the cesspool of services and information on behalf of someone else would be any more enjoyable. The only satisfaction would be achieving a good, fair, affordable end for someone.

P.S. On a lighter note, here's a nice little story about how today's youth can play a helpful part in assisting older folks.


chris h. said...

This is an admirable thought, Mel. As I was navigating these waters for my mother, I often wondered how she would possibly cope without me? And in the next second, how will I possibly cope when I am older and have no one (children) to advocate for me? More and more, I'm thinking of communal living for the elderly, where friends live together and pool their resources to hire people to do what they no longer can.

Mel said...

I like that idea, Chris (the communal living situation). I guess that's part of the idea of senior living. Fewer things to take care of, and more people around who would understand and can help out. Although maybe they need to have someone on staff for advocacy in paperwork wars? Maybe they already do have such a person in some of those places? Dunno. I could use one already!!!