As part of a lifestyle and aging series, we’re working with renowned photographer Terry Lorant to showcase inspirational leaders in the industry. Each month, we’ll feature one or a few inspirational member(s) of the Amazing Care Network community who is using his or her voice to empower others in the collective aging experience. Read, in their own words, what the Amazing Care Network’s efforts mean to them.
This month, we’re proud to feature Pat Bemis, a Member of Amazing Care Network:
Q: How did you first meet Cora?
A: I worked for Kaiser for 20 years and that’s when I met Cora. She was regional manager and I was a nursing supervisor of a neonatal intensive care unit. Cora came on the scene and for many of us, we’d not previously known who the manager was. It wasn’t obvious that there was any plan. So, Cora shows up, and wow, things changed in a snap. It was so exciting for many of us baby boomers to see a woman in this position! And we never thought she was anything but local, because, she acted like this is home. For the longest time I didn’t know that she was commuting back and forth to California where her family was. Not for one moment did she ever seem frazzled. So, she set a bar for all of us. We had a director of nursing who really took her leadership style and skills based on Cora, which just translated down to us of what the expectation was of how we were going to present ourselves professionally and how we’re going to develop partnerships. She was instrumental in getting standing committees that we had in the hospital to be chaired by either a doctor or a nurse, and if it was a nursing-led committee or meeting, ‘who’s your physician champion?’. Coming together like that, instead of being subservient, it was a whole new idea. It changed everything.
I have a group of friends, we’re all retired nurses and we call ourselves the YaYa’s. When we reminisce, we talk about that era…wasn’t it so great to be in that place at that time?!’ Because SO much was happening in Hawaii, so much was happening that was great in Kaiser. We felt respected with Cora. Our opinions mattered, and the expectation was collaboration, and not a type of hierarchy that we’d been used to.
Time goes by…I left, Cora left, and I didn’t hear about her forever. And then I was a guest speaker at an Aging In Place conference two years ago for AARP. Afterwards, Jean Kumamoto, who I’d worked with before, and Gladys Chang, who my husband had worked with, they both grabbed me afterwards and said, “you have to be part of our group! We want you to meet Cora”…and I said “the” Cora? And I remember going home and thinking, well, I don’t really think I’m at that level. Then when I met to talk with Cora as she was starting Amazing Care, I couldn’t believe that someone had thought and planned this concept so well and that it was going to be in Hawaii. I signed up on the spot.
Q: Why did you Join ACN?
A: First, I liked the idea of being a targeted group who would have their fingers on care issues to help people network. Being with AARP, getting involved with Amazing Care was a no-brainer. I’m in the care-giver part of AARP, so, teaching caregiving, helping people prepare to be caregivers, and generally being of service, when I heard that we’re trying to gather resources for people that might not be able find their way through the system…the system is very difficult to find your way through! We’re spoiled being in Kaiser, because it’s a closed system, and so we just expect everything else to work like clockwork like Kaiser does. But, no, that’s not the case.
I like the health savings part of Amazing Care too. My husband and I have a pretty good setup with long term care insurance and those types of things, but, what scares us to death is that some of our friends aren’t as fortunate. I have single mother friends. And also, our kids have a difficult time making ends meet here. Two of my daughters are living with my ex-husband because they can’t manage rent on their income. That’s such a different concept for baby boomers to get their heads around. Why is no one working 40 hours a week anymore? Well, there are so few 40 hour a week jobs now, partly because they don’t want to pay the extra benefits. So, that health savings account is money that I can set aside for those bad rainy days, where someone needs help and I can look beyond, ‘I only have this much money for the rest of the month’…I have this account available that I can use to help them out with. I’m trying to get the message to a lot of my friends to become part of the Amazing Care Network.
Q: How do you feel about ACN Events?
I’m always amazed at who shows up at meetings. The financial officer at Kaiser came to a meeting. I thought, it has to be a good thing if Bob is here. His wife signed up, and she wants to be of service. And there are a lot of partners from the University who have joined. From a business standpoint…University Health Alliance is now offering Amazing Care accounts as part of hiring. They’re young folks, which is even better.
Local care is where it’s going to be for many people, especially because we’re so isolated here. There are a lot of folks who move to the mainland because of family. But, family may still be here. And moving away can be very detrimental to one’s health, not to mention the pocketbook.
I love all of the concepts that Amazing Care comes up with, and Cora’s always looking out for what’s next. What should we be focusing on next, who do we need to connect with? That takes so much energy and time, and she just does it. It seems as if that’s where her heart is, making this happen for people.
Another big surprise…I went to an end of life practitioner program with one of our physicians, Geoff Galbraith. We went through that training for a year. Geoff was a top level physician when my husband was working. And I came to an Amazing Care meeting one time, and there was Geoff! He said, “Girl, I’ve been waiting for you!” He talks about his love of connecting people with the Physician Friend of the Family aspect of ACN, he’s taken on that role…it’s just so great.
Q: What else makes ACN stand out?
Exercise…that’s another area that’s been area of focus. For people still working, and for people in the caregiving mode, how do you keep yourself fit? Cora is always looking to bring people in to help us focus on self-care. That was a surprise to me…it’s not traditional. She brought in a contractor who is specifically certified to make home upgrades for aging in place. That opened a lot of people’s eyes…for resale value to our homes, to have ADA fixtures and walkways and things like that. It was a great presentation. Amazing Care also helps people focus on figuring out their finances. And they bring people in who are good teachers, authentic people and not just there to drum up business. It’s really about networking and empowering.
Q: How can ACN help with your future?
This last year, we spent time visiting assisted living facilities. Not just skilled care, but the range. Next year we’ll be looking at adult day care, and some of the care homes to see what they look like, what they provide, and how much they cost. As a result of our visit to one of those places we saw, my husband is going to go into respite care while I go visit my mom. He’s had Parkinson’s for 28 years. He does a lot of things himself, but I would not want him here alone for two weeks. And the kids can’t manage that and work. I would never have thought or known that any of these skilled facilities would have respite care, and how cooperative they are to make that happen. That’s been really, really nice for me. For him, it’ll be a good trial to see if this is a place he could see himself living at any period of his life.
Hawaii just passed a Kupuna bill which is going to allow folks who are still working but are care givers, up to $70 per day to have someone come in and help out. (Kupuna, that’s seniors in Hawaiian.) I have a girlfriend who works in one of the hospitals, and her mom has dementia and she cares for her. She finally had to get a Go Pro camera and confine her mom to one room, to the living room, and put the camera on her desk to see if her mom actually ate. Because she was finding out, when she came home there was no food on the plate, but she’d eventually find the food in a trash can or stored someplace. Mom would put it in a drawer. Now, with $70 per day, she can have someone come in for a couple of hours to help out. Especially, if she has to go to a meeting where she can’t be looking at a camera the whole time! It’s a step.
So now, where are the gap issues in terms of knowledge, where are the gap issues of service and how can we manage that? What can our group do? Is it political action, is it speakers, is it field trips? We have a good group for that. I’ve met some wonderful folks, and sharing information. A new woman in my life has a dad who is a veteran, and we’re trying to find out how to get VA benefits for our moms. It’s not easy. But, I finally got it.
Q: Tell us more about the ACN Events:
The teas are mostly a get-together and catch up, and Cora runs that, and she’ll put feelers out, looking for someone to talk about a particular issue. From those teas, various groups, or cohorts, have formed naturally. And we’re trying to make various things happen. I haven’t been involved all that long, but I’m blown away by the idea and the talent and the potential.
At the teas, someone will come in, for instance the exercise person, and it’s open to all the members. We also had someone come in and talk about nutrition and how it relates to medication…which medications are good or not good with certain types of food. Who knew? That speaker was a nurse practitioner. She works with a lot of folks who are in their 80s and above who are taking a lot of medications and have a lot of illnesses and they’re maybe not eating properly. So this was a huge aha! That’s what Cora brought…that was her thinking way ahead of us that this would be a good idea.
All of this information does support people emotionally because it gives us the tools to carry on. Like Oprah says, “the more you know, the better you do”. This is what this organization does. It gives you a network that is maybe outside of your contact list that you might not have thought of. I think we can do that here perhaps because people are not as competitive about stuff like that. It’s such a small microcosm here, so there’s more sharing. And there’s a sense of, the more people get this information, the better off we’re all going to be.
Q: What’s next?
I would really like this concept to get out to the neighbor islands because they’re hurting so badly for this. There’s way more isolation. We worry about people here on the north shore. But what I have found, specifically through AARP is that a lot of those places say, we’re not going to wait for Honolulu to come to us, we’re going to have to figure it out for ourselves.
The concept of both the financial part and the caregiver support part of Amazing Care Network really needs to permeate our culture. It’s so tied in with our culture here on Hawaii. I was actually surprised it was on the mainland. I thought it was just Cora’s idea for Hawaii. It’s so intuitive here. Family, not necessarily defined on by blood. It could be who you know, it could be your location, it could be your job. The ties become very entwined here, and I like that.
When I first came to Hawaii, I didn’t have kids yet. Within a year, I had my first daughter. I found what they call hui’s baby hui’s New moms would take their baby, in their bikini, to the beach, and they’d find other moms with babies. And soon, we had a hui. And we’d meet, and talk about all the details of what we were experiencing…what do you do about sore nipples? What do you do when they cry for more than 4 hours? It was so nourishing, being with similar people, no judgment.
Amazing Care Network reminds me of a hui. We’re bringing energy, community, service, commitment all together and saying, ok, what help do you need? And I have some questions, can you help me with this? It’s the next phase of our life. We’re used to it. Because that’s how we came through the other passages of our life. Getting your mother on a waiting list to get into assisted living is like putting your ovum on a waiting list for preschool! I don’t know what it is yet, because it’s not big enough to even determine sex, but I want my kid to go here, so his name or her name will be this…that’s what happened in the 80s. You couldn’t buy your way onto a waiting list. And now, it’s the same thing with assisted care. It’s nuts. That’s why we went around to all of places to see the assisted living places, and ask the questions. Our generation has the template for this.