Home is what sustains Greg Majesky, a Seattle resident and quadriplegic who needs assistance in many of his everyday activities. Lawrence Chandler, a homecare provider and SEIU Healthcare 775NW member has cared for Majesky since 2008. Having a stable caregiver has improved his quality of life, says Majesky.
On June 5, Seattle City Council Member Mike O’Brien, walked a day in Lawrence Chandler’s shoes to shed light on the growing need in the Seattle area for homecare programs. He is joining a movement of policy makers, community activists, clients and caregivers who are advocating for dignity, respect and freedom for our seniors and people with disabilities and those who work hard to care for them.
City Council Member O’Brien visited Majesky’s home, arriving on bicycle despite the rain, to accompany Chandler in many of the tasks he performs everyday as a caregiver. From fixing a cup of tea, preparing breakfast, doing the dishes, administering medication, assisting Majesky in transferring out of his bed to his wheelchair to preparing Majesky for his shower that he gets three times a week.
Mr. O’Brien walked in a caregiver’s shoes in support of the Caring Across Generations Resolution that addresses the lack of affordable quality care options for older Americans and people with disabilities and the need for those who work hard to care for them to receive respect, support, better pay and training. If passed, Seattle would be the first city in the country to pass local legislation around the issue of protecting critical services for our most vulnerable: people with disabilities and older Americans.
Interview with Mike O’Brien, Seattle City Council member
What have you learned from walking in Lawrence’s shoes today?
I spent the morning with Lawrence and Greg. I got the chance to see what a typical routine for Greg is, and how Lawrence helps his client get through the day. Greg’s morning is similar to what we all do: he wakes up, having breakfast, has something to drink and goes to the bathroom. In Greg’s condition, because he is paralyzed from the waist down, all the things that I take for granted in my daily life, become really complex chores. I got to help out Lawrence and be Greg’s caregiver for the morning. I felt I was able to do the job, but on the other hand it’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like to need that kind of help and what it’s like to give that kind of help. I also learned about how you create an uplifting environment, and how you keep everyone’s spirit up and move through the day, which can be a struggle.
Why is it important to support long-term care programs?
It’s really important to support programs like this on a number of levels. First of all, for Greg’s spirit and well-being or anyone who needs care, to be able to live in your own home just has to feel so much better. I know when I’m in my own home, it energizes me.
From a financial aspect, it’s quite expensive to have people in hospitals and nursing homes, and being able to provide an alternative that’s saving folks money and giving them that freedom to live on their own is really important. The quality of life when you receive care in your own home is just that much better.
What can we do to protect long-term care programs that save the state and city of Seattle money in the long-term?
Often times, if we are not thinking in the long-term in government at all levels, we get forced into short-term decision making that doesn’t make any sense. What I saw today by helping out Lawrence who cares for Greg is that Lawrence is doing a great job. He is clearly a special human being who cares about his client and being able to do this kind of work and keep Greg in his home is way more cost-effective. Anything that we as a system can do to support caregivers so that they can make a living, enjoy coming into work every day, and have alife outside of work hours is really important. It is part of a much more efficient healthcare system.
Why did you decide to take leadership on the issue of quality long-term care?
A number of advocates elevated this issue for me and helped me recognize where the city and country is going as a whole. There are a lot of folks of all different ages that need assistance like this. As our population ages, we realize that we need caregivers to take care of people as they get older and are in other circumstances where they need assistance.
My parents are getting older. At some point in their life, they may need assistance. I live close to both of them, so I can provide some care. But I won’t be able to be a full-time 100% caregiver.
Making sure that we have a system that supports people that want to take care of their family members and friends in a way that they feel they can make a good living and are a protected part of society, is something really important to me.
What could the city of Seattle do to support quality long-term care that’s so important to people with disabilities, elderly and our most vulnerable citizens?
One of the steps that the city of Seattle is taking right now is that we are working on a resolution that’s asking all levels of government to really take a look at these systems and making sure that we are supporting them. That means, making sure that this type of care is available for people like Greg who want to live in their homes. Making sure that those people who are doing the caregiving, Lawrence in the case of today, are compensated fairly and are treated fairly and have all the health insurance benefits, and vacation benefits that we all expect from our daily jobs.
So the city of Seattle is going to stand up hopefully and make a strong statement to the state and the country that this is something that we think is really important to the citizens of Seattle.
What difference do caregivers make in the lives of their clients and in their communities?
Having caregivers available to help out people who are in situations like Greg’s, or anyone who has a loved one or friend who needs taking care of, I think is really important to the whole structure of our society. Decades ago, we lived in communities where this is what we did, you took care of the needy, hurt and elderly. Society has gotten away from that. I don’t think we’re proud of ourselves when we think of ourselves as a community that sticks folks in a home when they become a burden on us.
At the same time, 24-hour care is something that not many of us are capable of doing day-in and day-out and we need help. Having access to qualified, skilled caregivers like Lawrence is an asset to everyone in society. We can make sure that folks like Lawrence are well trained and compensated. If we can get a system like that functioning, then as a community we will be that much stronger.
What difference has your caregiver made in your life?
To have a steady caregiver in your life is of huge importance in my life. Aside from the caregiving that he provides, he is a friend in my life. He brings warmth, he has bedside manner that I wouldn’t be able to have in a home. Everyone is more comfortable in his or her home, rather than a nursing home or hospital.
Why is it important for you to receive care in your home?
At home, a caregiver allows you to have one-on-one care. It’s freedom in a way. It makes me more comfortable to be at home with my animals and my partner.
I was very unhappy when I was in the hospital and nursing home. I was around people who had a variety of disabilities in a nursing home. It took a toll on me emotionally. I’m a much happier person to be at home to be with my dogs and my partner, and to live as normal a life as possible. I am very thankful for that and to whoever made that possible.
How has long-term care impacted your health and well-being?
The one-on-one care is just that: I have someone watching parts of my body that I can’t feel or I can’t see. They can tell me if something is wrong that I can’t tell. That is one major impact of having homecare. The second aspect is the warmth and the friendship that a caregiver brings into my home when I’m home alone. I don’t have anyone at my home when my partner is at work other than my caregiver, Lawrence.
Why should the city of Seattle and the state of Washington need to support long-term care?
It’s a lot cheaper to keep someone at home. The amount of money that the state would spend for me at a nursing home or at the hospital for long periods time is very high. There are other places in the state budget that can be cut, rather than cutting from the elderly and disabled. Everybody should be held accountable, including politicians. They need to support homecare because otherwise the state will pay more out of pocket without me at home.