Web videos air seniors' worries about finances, health
An online advocacy campaign has become part of the national debate about possible cuts to services such as Medicare and Social Security. The campaign uses the Internet to tell the stories of disadvantaged older adults.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bettye Guillory worked all her adult life, until the age of 89. That's when the physical ailments common for her age started to take their toll. Her once-powerful stride became careful, calculated. She moves slowly now, most often with the aid of a wheelchair.
"If I was old, I didn't know it until now," said Guillory, a retired beautician who will celebrate her 99th birthday with her family in Federal Way later this month.
Her daily routine hasn't changed in decades: Always proper, Guillory puts on her jewelry, applies her makeup, fixes her hair and slips into an impeccable dress. Any day spent in a bathrobe, her daughter says, is a bad day.
The only change: She's no longer able to do these things herself, but instead relies on nurses, doctors and volunteers for help with everything from getting ready to getting to medical appointments.
Her story is one of several in a series of videos being broadcast online as part of the One Away campaign, a national advocacy effort highlighting issues that affect the health and pocketbook of seniors.
Among the concerns are cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid that affect millions of seniors across the country who are struggling to get by, often on less than $22,000 a year.
One away from crisis
Many of them, advocates say, are just one illness, layoff or accident away from poverty, homelessness or death — hence the name, One Away.
The project launched in January by the National Council on Aging and its affiliates, including Seattle's Senior Services, to let seniors tell their stories in their own words. There are 13 videos posted on the campaign's website; the one featuring Guillory has been viewed more than 4,000 times.
Cumulatively, the videos have been seen more than 16,000 times, with numerous others in the works from affiliates around the country.
One Away also invited other seniors to share their stories, posting thousands of entries on the website from older adults who have had to stop taking their medications, eat less and even live in their cars because of financial hardship.
The website also provides visitors with the option to send a letter to Congress. To date, more than 14,000 messages have been sent.
"Lawmakers are facing a lot of difficult decisions right now," said Melissa Tribelhorn, outreach coordinator for Seattle's Senior Services and the person who recruited Guillory for One Away. "But you can't fix budgets on the backs of the people who need help the most."
More and more seniors
Among the concerns of advocates is the number of baby boomers hitting retirement age this year. Nationally, the population 65 and over — 40 million in 2010 — will balloon to more than 55 million in 2020 and to more than 72 million by 2030.
In King County, a quarter of the residents are expected to be 60 or older by 2025.
Advocates are hoping to prompt changes, including the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which provides states with grants for community planning and projects that address housing, employment and nutrition for the elderly.
In Seattle, the law funds national services such as Meals on Wheels, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly the food-stamps program — and the transportation services Guillory uses.
"These resources have been a godsend for me and my mother," said Nesbia Lopes, 73, Guillory's daughter and an administrative assistant for Olympic Pipe Line.
Her mother's mobility issues make it impossible for her to travel by herself or use public transportation, Lopes said.
"I work full time. She needs this or she can't get anywhere."
Guillory's video was put together by Senior Services and its network of sites in and around Seattle, including the Life Care Center in Federal Way, where Guillory lives and was tapped to highlight disabled seniors' need for transportation services.
For Guillory, who lives on Social Security payments and whatever her daughter can provide, the stakes are higher than just a car ride to a medical appointment.
"She didn't know to save money or get life insurance, so she has nothing," Lopes said. "I'll be there doing everything I can, but others don't have anyone to turn to."
Tribelhorn adds that caregivers, too, are facing challenges, often juggling employment, housing and emotional burdens of their own while caring for their aging loved ones. In Washington, these challenges will be the topic of the next series of videos Tribelhorn and her colleagues work on.
No work, no income
To illustrate this topic, Tribelhorn recruited Lupe Finch, of North Bend, who was forced into early retirement three years ago after getting laid off as a market-research manager for Genie Industries in Redmond. Finch was partly OK with the job loss, but only because it meant more time with her now 93-year-old mother, Lupe Ramos, who has Alzheimer's disease.
But with no income, Finch and her mother have been living on savings, unemployment benefits that dried up almost a year ago and the retirement payments of Finch's 65-year-old partner, Jim.
"We're three seniors trying to take care of each other," she said.
Finch said she has tried hard to find another job but, given her age — now 59 — "no one would hire me."
Finch's difficulty is not unique. In 2009, the monthly average of unemployed Americans 55 or older topped 1.9 million.
Finch also finds herself trying to sell both her house and her mother's in a difficult market. She plans to move, along with Jim and her mother, to California, her home state, where Ramos worked as a hairdresser until she was 82.
Production for the One Away video campaign will end with the release of the project's final videos, expected by the end of the year. By that time, Seattle's Senior Services will have completed at least three videos covering issues related to transportation, caregivers and older veterans.
Officials at the National Council on Aging hope to replicate the success of last year's video campaign aimed at raising awareness about elder abuse, Elder Justice NOW!
The stories collected by that campaign were used in arguments for the Elder Justice Act, signed into law by President Obama as part of the Affordable Care Act.
"When you have a sound mind and a young spirit, but your body has aged on me, it's quite a challenge," said Guillory, looking off camera for the project that she says she would do again in a heartbeat.
"It's the least I can do. Without the help I've received, I'd be poverty-stricken."
Roberto Daza: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com
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