Jan 16, 2019 : Original article in the Napa Register.
Napans are great at reacting and helping during emergencies. A fire, an accident, a one-for-all effort brings in responses from just about every facet of society. There is a heart glow in helping and being of service in the company of others with an agreed upon goal. Stories of courage and self-sacrifice abound, and we have many whose photos grace magazine and newspaper stories on their efforts in making life better for those with less. We pack boxes for troops, raise money with crab dinners, have clothes drives for fire victims and so on.
It feels good to help someone else. That’s a basic tenet of humanity, and most religions. Serving is of service to both the giver and receiver. And, I am willing to bet that most of us “give” something at one time or another. Or, at least believe we do.
The greater challenge, I believe, might be of serving in every day life. It is in the slog of day-in and day-out existence that many of us ignore or set aside the idea of service as we survive work, commuting, deadlines and family pressures. Time is of the essence and it seems that most of us have less than ever before. I have found a solution…and that is integrating service and life into a seamless existence.
Is anyone else feeling that “time is running out?” I am. I have entered my last third of life, and I am wondering how much, or whether it’s possible, to make any change at all before I too, leave this planet. I want to leave it a better place, with hope for my children and grandchildren to live good, satisfactory lives where they, too, can be of service to humanity.
My life work has been in the field of aging. Frankly, it’s been difficult. People often as me how I can continue, in what they might believe, is such depressing work … and the reality of impending death and suffering keeps many away. But, I don’t look at the work, I look at the people. Each of them individually, with lives, purpose and meaning. And, it’s not their history but their present life that is of interest and concern. I believe in the value of life as a harbinger of our humanity and service to each other.
I look at 2019, and wonder whether there is hope for making life better for people who are struggling with age, infirmity, poverty and chronic illness and now, increasingly so, dementia. As a society, as a culture, there are major changes that must occur. This week, I visited three people, all over the age 90, living alone and trying to with increasing infirmity. One asked me whether I meet many people over age 90 … and I smiled with the reality of not only do I meet many, but increasingly more.
Here are a few of my suggestions to build a better community for aging people in Napa County:
1. Eliminate automated phone systems. They don’t work for people who have trouble hearing, understanding or following conversations. We need real people to answer phones and respond questions.
2. Develop a community-supported residential care home where older people, who are low income, with dementia, can safely live. Right now, people are “aging in place,” because of no choice…but, we don’t leave 6-year-old children home alone, and we cannot continue to leave people with advanced dementia home alone.
3. Fix the lumps and bumps on sidewalks so people can safely walk in their neighborhoods.
4. A moratorium on rent increases for people over age 62 and on SSI, (monthly income $970) living in mobile home parks and senior retirement apartment buildings.
5. Increased re-use of medical equipment and supplies to stop waste.
6. Build nature spots, bird and butterfly sanctuaries with clear paths and sitting areas in all health care facilities, retirement homes, etc. Gardens, too.
7. Talk to neighbors, become a good neighbor.
8. And, when neighbors and friends are hospitalized or moved to an assisted living or nursing home…visit them. As often as possible.
9. Volunteer with Share the Care Napa Valley, CAN-V, Napa Ombudsman Program, Molly’s Angels or other services working with the older population. Become involved in how people are cared for in our community.
10. (This one is empty, for you to fill in. Send me an email and let me know what you think we need to do to make Napa Valley a better place to age: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yvonne Baginski is the newly-elected Senator for the California Senior Legislature representing Napa and Solano Counties. She is also the Director of Share the Care Napa Valley. Her front porch is a well-recognized Napa Valley tradition for distributing and collecting medical equipment and home health supplies. She can be reached at 707-491-3198.