You don’t have to go it alone


Here’s a question that I get asked fairly regularly: “What do you actually do?” — which is an absolutely reasonable question; regrettably, that doesn’t guarantee a reasonable answer, but I’ll try.

People see a column in the The Daily World and think, “Oh, he writes a column for The Daily World.” OK.

Or they see me at one of our “info fairs” and think, “Oh, he stands around and talks to people.” OK.

Or people see me at the grocery store and think, “Oh, he likes chocolate chip cookies…” Well, yeah…

What I really do is work with “Information & Assistance.” It used to be called “Senior Information & Assistance,” but then we changed it because we noticed that not everybody with a question was 60 or better. Let’s back up.

It’s our job to know everything there is to know about every program, service or resource that could possibly have anything to do with anybody 60+ (…right…), and then to provide any level of assistance that anyone 60+ could possibly need to access or understand that program, service or resource. Did that help?

We’re “guides” ­— I’m a guide. It’s my job to help you know or find whatever it is you need to know or find in order to be reasonably OK, most of the time, and to “remain independent in your own home.” So, that’s why I go on about Medicare, for instance, or Medicaid (which is totally different) or caregiving or Social Security or Durable Powers of Attorney or advance directives or or or… Get it?

Now, can I guarantee that I/we have the magic answer to everything, so all you have to do is call any of the numbers at the end of this column and voila all is solved, all is well and all is right with the world? Of course not! This is America, planet Earth — life doesn’t work that way. But I’ll tell you this: Ignorance (not stupidity — ignorance) and isolation do more people more harm than anything else you care to name, politics included.

Let’s try an example: Mom has been in the hospital for hip surgery and is going to need some help at home, for a while, and you’re trying to bust her out on Discharge Day. Mom is saying, sweetly, “Get me out of here!” The discharge planner comes in, and says to all of you,” Ktyo plfzz hmewsr pt lkksm ewqalmms…,” just for openers. Mom says, “Get me out of here!”

So, you get Mom out of there, get her home, and about 24 to 36 hours you all begin to realize, “Oh dear, this is going to be tough. What did that discharge planner say?” Right. We can help you understand it, so you can decide what to do — or not do. And what else might be out there that could help. Think, “In-home care.”

Here’s another: Did you know that there are workshops from time-to-time that can help you learn how to live with a chronic disease or condition, and still have a life? Did you know that?

We did, because it’s our job to know that.

Did you know that there’s help figuring out Medicare (and just about any other kind of health insurance) and/or dealing with billing mistakes or qualifying for Medicaid? Did you know that it’s free? We did, because … right.

Did you know that there’s free legal information available? Or support for caregivers? Do you even know what a “caregiver” is? Here’s my standard definition: A “caregiver” is somebody who is taking care of somebody who needs to be taken care of, whether they like it or not. Could you use a little help?

Not sure if you need a will? What’s a “community property agreement?” How does somebody apply for Food Stamps? I can’t afford “long-term care!” I can afford “long-term care,” but I have no idea what I’m looking for! I need somebody to advocate for Dad, who’s in a nursing home. What’s “home health?” What’s “home care?” What’s the difference? Who’s on 1st????

And on it goes. We’re guides. If we don’t know “it,” we’ll find somebody who does.

Here’s my favorite one: Somebody just needs to talk to somebody, because they have no idea what they need. They just know what’s wrong, or what’s happening or what might happen. So, they need to tell their story and have somebody “think back” with some ideas, then they can decide what to do or not to do.

For the bureaucratic wonks among us, “Information & Assistance” is a program of the Olympic Area Agency on Aging, which is not the State and not the Feds, but does get State and Federal dollars and serves folks in Pacific, Grays Harbor, Clallam and Jefferson counties — feel smarter? Good!

So, there is, literally, no such thing as a “dumb question” — Well, OK, I suppose it’s possible, but most of us don’t know what we don’t know — if we knew it, then we’d know it, right? — just pick up the phone or walk in the door and start talking. Here’s what I can guarantee you: Genuinely decent people will listen and try to help, and nobody will try to sell you anything, because we don’t have anything to sell.

If you’re really not sure whether you ought to call any of the numbers at the end of this column and ask whatever it is you’re thinking about asking, just email me at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov and ask me — privately, just between you and me — and we’ll go from there.

Nothing we do will cost you anything; now, we may give you an idea that you decide to act on that could cost you something (you do know what planet you’re on, right?), but not for what we do — not for listening, or answering questions, or giving you information that you have a right to or helping solve a problem.

So, the column in The Daily World and the “info fairs” and the “whatever else” are just other ways of saying, “There might be help, and you don’t have to go it alone.”

Chocolate chip cookies have nothing to do with it – Unless you’re me.

And most of you aren’t.

Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.