What personal experience do you have with long-term care and caregiving?
I am glad you asked that question. Providing care for my divorced parents over the past 15 years has been quite a journey. In both instances, my siblings and I opted to provide care for my aging parents outside of a nursing home or an assisted living facility.
I was the primary caregiver for my widowed father for over 10 years based on my decision to honor his express preference to age at home. This entailed extra tasks of coordinating and supervising the upgrading, replacing and repairing of plumbing, roof, locks, and maintaining the lawn for an old house. My attention was directed to healthcare as he was a diabetic with glaucoma and cataracts, suffered with arthritis and required multiple medical appointments. Contending with the impact and necessity of his prescription drugs was daunting. Added to this was payment of his bills and protecting him from scams and frauds commonly visited upon aging homeowners, such as sales pitches for credit cards, warranties, various insurances, alternative fuel suppliers, and lotteries. Attempts by my oldest sister and I to finesse him into an assisted living facility were met with an emphatic "No" and a firm declaration that he would live in his home until his death.
After a mini-stroke which resulted in an increased fall risk, I insisted that he relocate to my home. This was met with an initial strong resistance and then acceptance. In fact, he bragged to his friends and some family members that he had four maids (this included me, my husband and the two caregivers). His witty, charming, and extroverted nature, including his constant singing of blues, spirituals and pop music along with his frequent and generous thank you’s, made this 24/7 undertaking much easier to shoulder and provided light moments for all of his caregivers. An adult day care facility, caregivers, a committed and devoted retired spouse and yours truly became the long-term care team. My father was primarily confined to a wheelchair, was diabetic, incontinent of bowels and bladder, hard of hearing, had upper and lower dentures, and experienced frequent urinary tract infections, requiring brief hospitalizations and rehabilitation. His care plan included a regimen of maintaining hygiene and medication, washing laundry daily, ordering supplies, making and attending medical appointments, preparing him for the adult day care center daily, transporting him to and from the day care via bus service or otherwise, and creating special menus and diets to control the spikes in his blood sugar. We made adjustments to our lifestyle to accommodate the parade of providers that came in and out of the house both weekly and daily: e.g., occupational and physical therapists, nurses, podiatrists, certified nurse assistants, and caregivers.
My father was cared for in my home for four years prior to his passing. After the first six months, he thanked me for being his caregiver and told friends and family that he needed to live with me until he regains his good health. As for the adult day care facility, after first insisting that day care was unnecessary and that he did not want to be around all of those "old people," he told me after a few weeks that he truly enjoyed the time out of the home, the socialization and the activities. However, my role as his daughter changed. After countless utterances by me of "don't" and "no" to caregivers and to him with reference to sodas, peppermints, sweets and excessive bananas, he started referring to me as "She" as opposed to "Patty."
Caregiving for my mother is less intense, but challenging nevertheless. Her six children have combined forces to provide care for this healthy and extremely energetic 90-year-old woman. In addition to her children, her church family, neighbors and paid caregivers struggle to meet her long-term care needs as she continues to reside alone in a three-bedroom home. Mom, who has mild cognitive impairment, voluntarily relinquished the management of her finances to me more than 15 years ago. At age 75, she asked if I would get her "some memory pills". After receiving them, she opted to use them "as needed or not at all." Only after the addition of daily caregivers were they taken on a daily basis.
She constantly challenges us with important things in her life: non-working remote controls; loss and replacement of her partial dentures; multiple calls inquiring if she has to attend day care with those "old people"; requests to have her windows cleaned in mid-winter; obsession with cutting the grass; physical relocation of several pieces of heavy furniture; constant damage to walls by repositioning and rearranging hundreds of photos of family and friends; and tampering with the dials of the heating and air conditioning units. She is comfortable in this 50-year plus environment, where she enjoys viewing and actively participating in game shows, reading her Bible, sitting on her porch, and having phone calls with family and friends.
Over the years as mom aged, she sought constant reassurance that a nursing home or an assisted living facility would not be a part of her long-term care plan. The family plan, although not so perfect, will eventually require that she relocate to one of her children’s residences. But for the present, the current arrangement allows her to maintain dignity and a semblance of independence.
Tell us a little bit about your career.
It has been interesting, varied and very exciting. My career began as a labor attorney. This was inspired by my Labor Law professors at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Further inspiration came from my involvement, beginning at age 11, with assisting my father, a union steward, with drafting labor grievances. My first job offers were with the United States Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor and the National Labor Relations Board. I chose the Solicitor’s office based on its Chicago location. After a year, I changed jobs and started working for a civil rights organization that litigated housing discrimination cases in the Federal District Court. A position in the Corporate Law Department of Sears, Roebuck and Company became available and I accepted a staff attorney position handling labor and advertising matters. Thereafter, impressed by my colleagues’ experience in private practice, I accepted a position at a boutique law firm. Within two years, I opened my own law office where I practiced civil law for 14 years. The bread and butter of my practice were contested family law and probate cases (wills and estates), guardian ad litem appointments, appointments as outside counsel for several municipal agencies, and serving as a Trustee for Bankruptcy Court for over a decade. My ability to resolve a multitude of issues on behalf of my clients and at-risk seniors was extremely rewarding. I was elected judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1994. The Domestic Relations Division was my first assignment, where I presided over family law cases. This was followed by an assignment in the Law Division presiding over complex litigation matters, which included medical malpractice, wrongful death, personal injury and construction cases.
Is it what you had planned when you started law school?
Not really; law school was simply a means to an end. In undergrad, I flirted with the idea of becoming a criminologist or consumer advocate, the latter due to buyer’s remorse resulting from an ill-advised vacuum cleaner purchase from a door-to-door salesman. Upon graduating from undergrad at age 20, the job market was very bleak. I viewed the opportunity to enroll at the University of Wisconsin Law School as a way to acquire control over my source of income and work environment.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I cannot point to just one highlight; fortunately, there have been many. Extricating a senior from a financial exploitative situation as a guardian ad litem, rectifying housing discrimination perpetrated against an African-American male Marine and a former regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau, successfully advocating for equal pay for equal work on behalf of women, chairing the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, being appointed Chair of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging and being elected a judge in 1994: all have represented high points. If I had to list just one, I would highlight the establishment of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Elder Law & Miscellaneous Remedies Division. Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans appointed me Presiding Judge of the Division in December 2010 and asked that I help develop a Division for elderly litigants. Since my appointment, I have witnessed the gradual acceptance and expansion of the Division. This has been both a humbling and exhilarating experience.
What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?
Please enroll: the opportunities are boundless. Many of my colleagues have used their law degree to practice law; while others have successfully combined their law degree with other skillsets.
What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?
More acceptance and respect for female attorneys and the evolution of technology.
When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?
I joined the ABA in 1974. My employer at the time paid my membership dues. The Association had an active Labor Law Section. I joined to sharpen my skills in my practice area.
What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?
The highlight of my work with the ABA has been serving as the Chair of the Commission on Law and Aging and as a member of the Council for the Senior Lawyers Division. The focus on elder law issues, including law and policy, and the incredible wealth of expertise within these two entities make it well worth the time and energy that I devote to the Commission and the Senior Lawyers Division.