Independence Now highlighted Consumer Success Stories at our 2023 Annual Meeting on Thursday, June 8, at the Hyattsville Library. In addition to success stories, attendees heard annual reporting and celebrated community members with an awards presentation.
My name is Carlos and I’m the proud son of Carmen, a 93 years old who is one of the strongest, most caring, and hard-working people you will ever meet. My mother came to the United States from Mexico in 1966, she was a 35-year-old mother of three, with very little command of English and less than 50 dollars to her name. Not long after arriving in Detroit, my mom joined Ford Motor Company as an assembly line worker and was able to raise the three of us on an assembly line worker’s salary. After my siblings and I grew older and started our own lives, my mother was able to do something that not too many manufacturing workers can do these days – she retired with a pension and health insurance.
Her retirement benefits and social security helped sustain her for decades. But when she experienced a serious health crisis a year and a half ago, it wasn’t enough to cover all her expenses. Once her acute health crisis was over, she was moved to a rehab facility, for what we hoped would be a short stay. Unfortunately, within weeks, it became clear that her recovery was going to take some time. That is when we decided to apply for assistance from the State of Maryland.
Although we knew the application process would be involved, nothing could have prepared us for the amount of time it took the state to review her materials. My day job is in data management and system design for the Federal Government. If someone had told me that in 2022, it would take 7 months to process a routine application for Medicaid I would have never believed them.
As we waited, without any real transparency or notice regarding the status of her application, my mother, who I visited on a daily basis, struggled to bounce back from her illness. As I said, she is a very strong woman, but I could tell that the seemingly interminable process, and simply not knowing what would happen with the application took its toll. Her physical therapy sessions, which were time limited at 10 to 15 minutes a day were simply not enough to help her bounce back. This, coupled with the fact that she was in a facility with people who had significant cognitive impairment, meant that she couldn’t establish a social network to help sustain her through this time. So my mother did the few things she could do. She sat, she slept, she ate, and waited for my visits.
Enter Michael Saunders. He explained to us the program available to her – the waiver. He answered many calls and e-mails from us and was clear about the process. He matched our level of commitment to getting her out of the facility and home with the right supports. The application process was long, but I felt supported the entire time, and when I got the list of Supports Planning Agencies I knew I wanted to work with Independence Now. Speaking with Nina only solidified that. The questions she asked were not cold. It felt like she wanted to get to know who my mother is, and as a proud son, I obliged and told her everything. Even though this agency was not accepting new clients at that time, Nina agreed to take the case. I remember getting the call from Nina and she said “ok, let’s do this”. That phone call lasted an hour and a half and at the end, Nina said “Don’t worry, now that you’re on my caseload I am going to do everything I can to get your mom home to you” and just those words meant the world to me.
Between Mike and then Nina we received so much support through the process. They were always happy to jump on a call or answer a text or e-mail. When the social worker was not scheduling the discharge meeting Nina made it happen. She came prepared and would not take no for an answer when it seemed like others were trying to delay things. What I got from Nina was a voice of clarity, compassion, and reason. Here was a person who understood the system and, despite all of its faults, was able to get up every day to work with individuals and families in need to help them get to a better place. With Nina’s help, I was able to find a caregiver who had the cultural competence to fold into my mother’s life and provide her with the support she needed. My mother has been home for eight months now and I can see that she is fortified by the experience of living with us again. And, something that I didn’t expect, is that the connection between her and her caregiver has blossomed into a genuine friendship. In addition to the care and attention she gives to my mother’s daily needs, I can hear the two of them laughing in my mother’s basement apartment, all the way up to my office on the second floor of our house.
Our lives had been turned upside down a year and a half ago. And while my mother still has many physical challenges, I can see that the strong, spirited woman who came to this country 57 years ago is back again. She is living with her family, and enjoying her days with the support systems she needs to live a full life with the dignity and respect we all deserve. It is inspiring to see an organization that has employees who are not just invested in helping others but enthusiastic about what they do. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Independence Now, and most especially to Nina Russell.