The Bernardine Apartments is a twenty-three story building located in The Valley section of Syracuse, New York. The Bernardine is part of Loretto Geriatric Center and has 216 apartments occupied by people between the ages of 54 and 100. Most of the residents live alone in one-room apartments and are in the NYS-sanctioned Enriched Living Program or Assisted Living Program.
It is Sunday here at Happy Valley and Frankie the Rug is visiting his mother, Rose of Sharing. They are arguing in the Bus Depot, a small space between the front lobby and the dining room. This space is perfectly square, has loveseats on three sides, and a sign briskly informing the residents that they may only sit here if they are waiting for transportation. The residents ignore the sign; it is their home.
Rose of Sharing is in her usual place with her wheelchair between the door to the dining room and one of the loveseats. Frankie the Rug, who is almost as wide as he is tall, is sitting on one of the loveseats. His pudgy hands are folded across his chest and he is arguing with his mother, who wants to go to Daybreak. Daybreak is the name of the elder daycare program in the building at the top of the hill. Frankie is sputtering about the cost of the program and the unavailability of wheelchair transportation.
I, being infinitely helpful, ask Rose if she has Medicaid and Medicare. When she says yes, I tell Frankie that they will pay for the program and that Loretto has a wheelchair-accessible bus that comes every day to pick people up and take them to Daybreak. So Frankie changes his argument to the fact that his mother can’t toilet herself. Other women sitting in the Bus Depot—this is a community problem, not a confidential one—assure Frankie that there are nurses at Daybreak and they take people to the bathroom. Yes, even people in wheelchairs. Definitely, people in wheelchairs.
Frankie continues to argue that his mother can’t go to Daybreak. Why would she want to, anyway?
She would want to because she is a mentally acute 83-year-old who knows who she is, where she’s at, and that she’s bored sitting in the Bus Depot all day. Rose is a social person and all her friends go to Daybreak. Frankie argues that all they do there is play Bingo, not understanding that just playing Bingo somewhere else can be very uplifting. He argues that because of her health, she can’t go. This leads to a discussion of the Lifeline alert system, and an explanation of why some of the residents are wearing wristwatches on both arms. Only one is a wristwatch; the other is a wrist alarm. They press it and it triggers an alarm in some office that results in a medical aide being sent to them immediately. This is for patients who are too fragile to even crawl to the bathroom and pull the emergency buzzer there.
I set out to learn just how fragile Rose is. She says she has a pacemaker. So does my mom, I say, adding that my mom can still drive fifty miles to her granddaughter’s house. Rule out pacemaker as reason for Rose to be disqualified from Daybreak. How often has she had to use the wrist alarm, and over what period of time, I ask? Rose and Frankie discuss whether it’s one, two or three times, and are completely unresponsive to the question of whether these alarms have occurred over a period of three weeks or three years.
Frankie insists that he has asked Natalie the Administrator (Natalie is not the administrator; Howard is) three times, and three times she has told him his mother can’t go to Daybreak. Now he walks away to ask “the nurse” about it. The nurse is an aide, and aides don’t know diddly about how the bureaucratic system works. If a doctor orders daycare, then Rose goes to daycare, never mind Natalie. While Frankie is away, I describe to Rose my experience and training as an advocate, and tell her that the important thing is to ask questions and get information. She asks for my help, and I tell her I’d be honored to serve her. (To be continued)