UnNews:Rising cost of elder care facilities forcing more and more families back together

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22 July 2015

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Sheila hanging on to the few good days left to her at St. Agatha's Last Hope Nursing Facility.
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Jimmy Marshall in the midst of another croquet boner.
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Billy Tucker will continue to live at St. Agatha's, even with his unamusing antics.

Topeka, KANSAS - The sun shines brightly, and a cool and gentle breeze whispers through the bright green grass at St. Agatha's Last Hope Nursing Facility in Topeka, Kansas. Dozens of patients in varying states of decay are out enjoying the late morning sunlight. Some are stuck in wheelchairs simply enjoying the summer breeze upon their worn faces. A few are walking laps around the sidewalks and gardens throughout the facility grounds. A group of sprier denizens are playing croquet on the lawn. The beach volleyball court goes unused.

On the 4th floor of the stately brick facility, in room 408, the television is on in the background. A graphic for "The 700 Club" comes up and Pat Robertson mimes all the problems he sees in the world. He is unaware that the television is muted, another problem he would surely like to fix. According to the next graphic, it looks like he's talking about gay marriage today. Sheila Gray has her back to the TV. She wears a simple, navy blue, ankle-length skirt, and white ankle socks that match her curled hair. Her glasses sit dignified upon her nose. A cream-colored knitted shawl covers her maroon sweater across her shoulders. Her bright white tennis shoes sit propped up in the corner of the room by the door. Sheila's eyes are focused out the window, watching her decrepit fellows enjoying the beautiful day down below. She would normally join in, but today she doesn't have the heart to.

"There was a time when I would have been the first one out the door during our break time," Sheila states. "You have to be early if you want to guarantee a spot in the croquet game. We have one set, you see. Only 6 people can play at a time and there's close to 20 that would like to on a given day. The scrum at the door in the minutes before they allowed us out is always something fierce." She laughed mirthlessly as Jim Marshall missed his wicket from not two feet away. "Classic Jimmy. He can hit a peg from 20 feet but the gimmes give him trouble."

A knock on the door, an orderly enters. He noticed her rare absence from the game and asks if Miss Sheila would like to be escorted to the lawn. She declines graciously, saying she is just a little tired today and wants to stay in. He bows his head as he walks out without another word. Pat Robertson continues to babble on silently, the closed captioning showing everything he is saying has congealing into one long, nigh-unintelligible word. It doesn't look like he's breathing.

"Everyone here is so nice. So warm. They create an environment where people at my age are able to live, not just wait to die. It's all someone like me can ask for." Her face is forlorn. This is not a happy thing for her to admit. With some hesitation, she brings up the reason she isn't on the lawn with the others. The reason she feels so alone. The reason for her sadness.

"I think I have to move back in with my family," Sheila sighs heavily.

Sheila had taken every step imaginable so she never had to see her family again. She saved heavily for her retirement, invested wisely, and when she felt she needed assistance due to her health she selected a nursing home over 100 miles away from anyone she knew. Her eyes glow with warmth as she mentions the feeling of moving so far from her entire family. It meant so much to Sheila that her family wouldn't be a burden on her any longer. "I was at peace that I would be here for the rest of my days. I was happy." Now, she only frowns, peeling her eyes from the window to give a half glance back at the TV where an exhausted Pat Robertson continues to rant. He has turned purple, eyes bulging out of his head, spittle flying out of his mouth, his word stream still pouring forth, uninterrupted by breath.

"The last time my son Robert came in here to visit me he was unbearable. Asking too many questions, giving all the workers here suspicious looks, complaining to everyone he could that I didn't have enough pillows or blankets in my room. By the end of the day I was practically drowning in blankets. Who on earth needs that many blankets? It was awful."

Sheila is one of a growing number of elderly in assisted living homes who are being forced back home due to the rising cost of these facilities. In the last 10 years the cost of these homes have risen at triple the rate of inflation. This has turned the choice of whether to move into an assisted living home or move in with family a difference between the haves and the have nots.

"Billy Tucker is a sonofabitch, and the worst croquet player I have ever seen," cried Sheila, "but because his daughter grew up to own a successful small business, and mine grew up to disappoint everyone he's ever known, he gets to continue playing and I have to move back in with the idiot? How is that fair?"

The judgment of her two granddaughters is no less cutting. "Those little snots are even worse. At least with Robert he tries. He may fail at everything he's ever done, but he tries. You can't take that away from him. His girls are the most entitled monsters I have ever seen. He gives them everything. They live way above their means. And yet I have to pick up my life and move back in with them? I'm the grandparent, yet I'm suffering for their sins. It's all backwards! It's wrong."

Somewhere in the distance, a firehouse siren goes off. Noon. The orderlies and nurses begin to round up everyone from outside. Wheelchairs are pushed back in. Walkers are herded towards the doors. An argument breaks out over the croquet game. It is solved when a nurse assures the competitors they won't move any of the wickets or balls, and will allow the game to finish during the afternoon break. It's lunchtime, followed by crafts. Sheila nods her head, a deep sense of melancholy permeating the smile she tries to give, and she tears herself away from the window, beginning her trek towards the lunchroom. She glances up at her television again as she gently puts her shoes back on. Pat Robertson has turned a deep shade of blue, both eyes have now popped full out of his head, and lay upon the desk next to him. He is unconscious, face-down in a pool of his own drool, which is still gushing out of his mouth at an alarmingly inhuman rate. His word-rant continues to fly across the screen as the closed captioning transcript writers try desperately to catch up from the speed at which he had been spewing. Sheila declines to turn it off, mumbling something about how he needs the ratings under her breath.

"You know, Robert still calls me once a week, like he's in college or something," she says as we ride the elevator down to the first floor. "I've tried telling him he shouldn't, that I need my space, but he said he's worried I'll get lonely." She shakes her head vigorously. "This is going to be the absolute worst."

On the first floor, I thank her for her time and we walk our separate ways. Outside, the landscaper angrily cleans up the croquet game, complaining loudly that this isn't part of his job. Weeds and grass peek through the cracked sand on the beach volleyball court behind him. The sun shines brightly, and a cool and gentle breeze whispers through the bright green grass at St. Agatha's Last Hope Nursing Facility in Topeka, Kansas.

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