When my dad got the letter telling him that he’d need to find $12,000 a month to stay at the Pioneer Vet Home, he had no idea what to make of it. At 90, he has dementia and is easily confused, and became upset when he understood that there was no way in the world he could come up with that much money, about twice the monthly rate he pays now. Some folks at Pioneer Homes were told that their monthly bill could go above $15,000 per month. No matter what their letters said, every one of those residents--the folks that saw our state through statehood and helped to build Alaska--didn’t feel as safe after they got those letters than they felt before they got them.
As his daughter, I don’t feel very safe either. The Dunleavy Administration said that nobody is going to get thrown out of Pioneer Homes but his track record on caring about Alaska’s older folks fails to reassure me. We watched while he suggested that the state could save money by cutting the senior benefits program, and only backed off when people made it clear the impact this cruel cut would have on seniors whose ability to afford housing, medication, and food rested on that small monthly check.
Dunleavy’s Administration claims that nobody currently in Pioneer Homes will have to leave, although the state will now take all but a few dollars of their life savings to pay the increased bills. Like many lifelong Alaskans, my dad took pride in working hard and living frugally so he could save those dollars. We know he’d hoped to pass some of the fruits of all that work down to support his grandchildren’s education, but this won’t happen now. One of the only blessings of Mom no longer being with us is that she doesn’t have to turn over most of their shared life savings before the state would support Dad, leaving her more dependent on us, her kids, and other state and federal programs. Families can’t pass help along from generation to generation if the state takes everything they’d saved for that future to pay the 140% hike in bills for elder care. Spouses, children, grandchildren--this decision ripples far into the future.
We’re all trying not to get too stressed. After all, with the cuts to mental health programs in the state, we’d have a hard time finding a therapist.
They say you can tell how civilized a nation is by looking at how it treats its most powerless members. If that’s true, Governor Dunleavy is missing the compassion to be a good leader. While I agree that some pay increases may be needed, the method and execution of the policy was unnecessary and thoughtless.
Chris Vaughan is a lifelong Alaskan. She currently lives in Soldotna, Alaska.