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Long Beach Resident Wins $50,000 Home Remodeling Contest For His Mother's Long-term Care

Daily News

John Simich drives his 87-year-old mother to run all of her errands.

He takes her to lunch to get her out of the house.

He lives in her Long Beach home so she's not alone. And he even sleeps on a couch in front of her room so he's nearby in case anything happens.

Like so many baby boomers, Simich is a caregiver.

"I eyeball her," he says. "If I didn't care, she would have been gone a long time ago."

Though willing to take on this role for his mother, Laila, who is suffering from dementia and arthritis, he wasn't exactly prepared.

He was laid off from his job about a year ago, and money has been tight ever since. There were multiple issues with their home that needed to be fixed for him to properly care for her, but he didn't have the resources.

One day while browsing the Internet, he came across an ad for a contest by 3in4 Need More, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the need for long-term care planning.

The contest's prize was a home renovation for a caregiver in order to create a safer environment for the person being cared for.

So Simich entered, and he won.

The big reveal, April 6, kicked off an educational campaign with elder-care expert Dr. Marion Somers traveling across the country to educate the public about long-term care.

"The 3in4 campaign is all about educating people as to how to take care of their long-term care issues and really how to start the conversation, because there are resources out there but people don't know what the resources are and they don't know which resources are appropriate for them," Somers says.

"So I'm driving a Greyhound bus cross-country to let people know there are all these resources, to educate them and help them start the conversation either within their own family, or with grandparents or their adult children, whatever."

It's an issue most people will face in their lifetime as almost 70 percent of people over age 65 need long-term care, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

But anyone at any age can need such care if they lose all, or any, of their independence due to an illness or injury.

What kind of long-term care is needed will vary by person. It may be living with a family member, in an assisted-living facility or a nursing home, or hiring home care - none of which is cheap.

A 2010 MetLife market survey of long-term care costs says that in Los Angeles the average daily rate for a private nursing home is $238, which amounts to $86,870 a year. At the lower end, a home health aide's hourly rate is $19, according to the study.

"You wouldn't drive a car if you didn't have car insurance. You wouldn't have a house without insuring it, and the same with your body. It's no different," Somers says.

"You hope you never have to collect on your car insurance. You hope you never have a fire, but you still carry insurance to cover any contingencies that are unsustained. Same with our bodies. We need long-term care insurance - in the event that you need it, it's there. If it's not there, it will financially devastate most families."

The types of policies and other resources that may be needed vary, but Somers wants to at least get people to start the conversation.

To do this, she uses her S.O.S. method.

First, she says, people need to look at their situation (the first S) including their current health or family member's health, family history and the risk of needing some kind of care as you age.

"Let's look at the reality - we're getting older and living longer and everyone will be impacted, if not you then somebody you love," Somers says. "Odds are you've either been a caregiver, you are a caregiver now, you're going to be a caregiver, or you're going to be someone who's going to need care. And also understanding that 16 percent of the people who consider themselves caregivers die before the person that they're caring for."

'O' is for options, meaning people need to think of their own preferences, such as whether a nursing home is desired or if home repairs need to be made to allow for the person to remain in the home, Somers says.

This also includes researching the costs of each option and finding out what services are available in your immediate neighborhood.

For Simich, he says a nursing home was never an option for his mother, not because of the potential costs but because he wants to make sure that his mother enjoys the life she has left and that they spend the time together.

"My mom cared for me all her life, so why wouldn't I do the same for her?" Simich says. "I love my mom, she's my friend. I had a great upbringing and I'm very lucky to have her."

Finally, Somers' last step in her S.O.S. call is for solutions, including a plan for how to pay for whatever long-term care you'll ultimately need.

While Medicare and Medicaid may offer a limited amount of coverage, Somers says it's not enough. Other financial options include reverse mortgages, financial planning, long-term care insurance or other programs that may be available.

Somers points out that rates on almost everything are lower when you're younger and still healthy.

Other items that need to be planned out in advance include a living will, a health care proxy, a durable power of attorney, a do-not-resuscitate form or any other legal papers that will ensure your wishes are carried out.

Simich's solution came through the contest.

Somers and 3in4 Need More completed the more than $50,000 home renovation, which included installing safety bars and banisters in all of the appropriate places; state-of-the-art bathrooms, with a walk-in shower in one and a bathtub with an electric chair to lift Simich's mother in and out; a new washer and dryer; bright, cheerful paint; and a garden for her to enjoy. They also fixed her broken Jacuzzi because it's where she exercises.

"First I went in and evaluated what her physical, mental and emotional needs were," Somers says. "Then I walked all the way through the house and looked at all the things that needed to get changed and it was definitely substantial."

Somers says people like John Simich need to start the S.O.S. process before the immediate need. And while she calls it the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, her slogan is: "A failure to plan is a plan to fail."

Thankfully for Simich, winning the contest provided what he needed to be able to care for his mother and for that, he says, he will forever be grateful.

"I would do anything to help my mother and applying for the contest was just one of those things," Simich says.

"I don't think I'll ever have a regret of how I treated my mom because I've done everything I could for her."


For a video and photos of the project, click here


This article also appeared in the Daily Breeze and Long Beach Press-Telegram publications

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