How We Treat Our Poor and Elderly

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I’ve written a lot about my mom in the past year. This past weekend was the 1 year anniversary of her pelvic fracture and I’ve been thinking of her more, and about how it felt like I lost so much of my mother in that moment.

It’s the smell of the autumn and the crunch of leaves underfoot and the quality of light. But it’s also how she appears in my life as her subscription to Family Circle, dropped right into my mail slot because I forwarded her mail here after she passed. She comes to mind as Lincoln totes around the bear she gave him, his favorite thing in this world, which he cannot sleep without. I think of her sitting on my porch with the kid’s right after we moved into this amazing house, and having dinner in our dining room before Georgia left for college. These thoughts I welcome. They make her feel closer and I feel more at peace.

But what is not peaceful at all has been the past 9 months that I’ve been trying to settle my mother’s “estate.” It’s a funny term to use for my mom, as she had no property, no vehicle or boats or RV’s. She had no stocks or bonds or savings. She had a few hundred dollars to her name in her checking account at the time of her death. She survived for 10 years on SSI and Disability, and received less than $900 per month. She had $5000 in burial insurance that she carefully paid into for years. But the Estate Recovery of Wisconsin for Medicaid and Badgercare Plus seems to find my mother interesting. Although it’s rumored they find everyone living in such poverty so interesting. Ironic, no?

But what makes me sad, what I have not written about, is how their interest feels pretty insulting, since I could not get a single person to help me or listen while she my mother was alive. While she was suffering. And dying. Then, no one cared about being, “thorough.”

It seems that these thoughts and feelings that we don’t say (at least for me) turn into wrecking balls if we hide them away. And as much as it might be easier to avoid the sad stories in our lives, there is no other way to shed light into the darkness than to do the telling.

So here is the story, told in the letter I wrote to the folks at the State of Wisconsin who want to know where my mom’s 1987 Honda Civic went to.

And in advance, this is sad. Just so you know. It’s sad. But I think it’s a story needs to be told.

RE: Estate of Patricia Roth

Dear Estate Recovery for Wisconsin Medicaid and Badgercare Plus,

Each time I receive a letter from your office regarding my mother’s estate, I’ve called in to verify what I need to supply you with. Each time, I’m told by whomever answers the call that this is all being done in the name of “thoroughness.” So in that respect, I am going to tell you what I remember in as much detail as possible, in the hopes that I may satisfy this matter for you.  It is traumatic to keep reliving the details of my mother’s death for you over and over.

The only reason that I even decided to settle my mother’s estate with the state of Wisconsin is that my daughter Georgia Roth had a minor savings account attached to my mom’s bank account. My mother set it up for her when Georgia was a young teen, as a way to help teach her to save her babysitting and spending money. There was never much money there, probably always less than $100 and certainly less than that at the time of my mother’s death. We were told after my passed away that my daughters account would remain open, vulnerable to all kinds of fraud, able to negatively affect her credit score, and unreachable to my daughter if we chose not to settle my mother’s very meager “estate.” Though I was told by numerous friends and colleague that attempting to close a person’s account when that person lived in poverty and on government assistance was “torture,” and “not worth the hell they put you through,” I assumed since my mother was so very poor for so many years, and proved it so very often, that this would be a simple process. How wrong I was.

For a little history, my mother had a heart attack when she was 54-years-old. The heart attack was misdiagnosed for over a week by 3 physicians, so by the time she was admitted to the hospital, her mitral valve was damaged beyond repair. Her heart was too weak to remove the angioplasty balloon without her bleeding out, so it was left in for nearly a week, hoping her heart would gain more function. Three months later she was healthy enough for bypass surgery and a replacement of her mitral valve. She was given a mechanical valve and was put on blood thinners for life to keep her blood thin enough to pass through the artificial heart valve. My mother recovered some, but never fully. The highest heart function she ever registered after that was 43%. Through those years my mother endured numerous internal bleeds, bleeding from the gums and severe nose bleeds. She had many bouts with pneumonia and various forms of Influenza and was hospitalized many, many times. Her rheumatoid arthritis was so bad that her legs visibly bowed. She had large blood clots in her legs that they could not safely remove. Through all these 15 years, I took care of my mother, for most of those years in my home. It was only about 6 years ago that life with small children in the home proved too difficult for my mother and we decided semi-assisted senior living was better for her. I was still her caregiver, her chauffer, her nurse and the only person she could rely on. For most of the years, I was a single mom working 2 jobs because for many years my mom was not considered sick enough for disability, though there was nothing she could do to improve her physical health and she couldn’t walk around a block. And someone had to take care of her, and that someone has been me. For 15 years.

In answer to your most recent set of questions, in the order that you asked:

1…. New York Life is the company that my mother had her burial insurance with. She paid into that insurance for years in hopes to not straddle myself and my husband with the majority of her burial expenses, though I cannot tell you how often or how much she paid. I do know that we found her current bill was due as we were packing up her room to move her to a new nursing home. She was not treated well at the Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam, as proven by her very extensive bedsores that were found when she was transferred on the day before she died. She asked me to pay the bill for her through her account as soon as I could. To the best of my recollection of something from nearly a year ago, I paid it on the evening of December 3rd, online, after I got her moved into her new nursing home in Randolph. Mostly I remember making sure to pay it for her on December 3rd because she was concerned about it and it needed to be paid immediately.

2… The ATM withdrawal of $400 was for some clothing my mother needed, but mostly for the Christmas gifts she had picked out and asked me to order. From my best recollection, I used the ATM later in the day on December 3rd, but I do not recall the exact time. What I do know is that the week before her death, my mother asked me to help her find Christmas gifts for her 4 grandchildren, my brother and his fiancé, as well as my husband and myself. Though the nursing home claimed that all residents had access to Wi-Fi, we were never able to get it to work so my mother was unable to search the internet herself. And at this point, she was so weak that it was difficult for her to even hold up her phone for more than a minute or two. So I made a list of the kind of gifts that she had in mind for everyone. I went online at home and found some options for her, then I took photos with my phone of the gifts that I found online that I thought might fit her requests. I brought my phone to my mother’s nursing home and we sat together looking at the choices I had for her. She picked the gifts she felt suited everyone, and though she kept calling them Christmas gifts, the gifts she chose were meaningful and personal for each of us. Necklaces with quotes, meaningful toys for the littlest grandkids. They were her last gifts to us and she asked me to order them for her. My mother was afraid to buy things from online stores so she asked me do this for her with my own account and she would pay me back. This was how she bought anything online for years, whether she needed diabetic socks or a new cold air mask for winter. She was afraid of her money being stolen so she asked us for her help. I totaled up the gifts for her, but then she realized that she had forgotten gifts for my brother’s fiancé and my husband, so the total was close to $250.00 when all was said and done with shipping. I have included some text messages between my mother and myself that shows we were working on these gifts together. She understood that the cost of the gifts but she asked me to take $400 out of her account for myself to help pay for the clothes that I had just bought her that week. I purchased her 8 pairs of pants and 12 pairs of underwear and a zip up fleece jacket, because she was always so cold even in sweatshirts or sweaters and asked for a warm jacket with a zipper that she could wear inside the nursing home. I do not have a receipt for this purchase, because I was constantly purchasing things for my mother at this time because she was bedridden. The nursing home requested items for her, and my mother asked for what she needed and I bought them for her. I was not expecting to be reimbursed by my mother, just as I helped her for many years without expecting that. The clothing items that I had bought her that week totaled more than $200, but I did not tell her that. She insisted I take $400 out of her account to help cover all of the expenses she knew we had been covering. (My mother needed 4 sets of clothing after her injury and before her death, because of losing 25 pounds, but also because of her losing control of her bladder and bowels by then.) I did all of her laundry because the nursing home admitted a tendency to lose patient clothing, so when my mom’s clothing became too soiled and smelly, or too big for her shrinking body again, I bought her more. I never asked her for any money for the things that I bought because the last thing I wanted was for my mother to worry about money. My husband and I were happy to supply her with what she needed. The only reason I took out the $400 is that she insisted for numerous days before her death that I take the money that I spent on her that week. As I said, I spent much more on her even that week, but I took out $400 like she asked me to. I am enclosing receipts for the gifts that I bought online. I paid $25 to a pet rescue shelter in LaCrosse, which is what my sister in law requested as her gift. I have no recollection of the name of that company or the method in which I paid for it, but I donated the money as asked. My mother asked me to buy my husband an antique punch bowel that he has mentioned to her, but this was purchased at a local antique store for $25. I don’t have receipts from this either. It never occurred to me that I would need them. My mother was alive and asked me to help her buy Christmas presents, so I did. I don’t know why the ATM withdrawal says December 4th, because as I recall it was on December 3rd.

3… Colonels Cab Rent. I have no idea why money would be taken out of my mother’s account on December 4th to a cab company. My mother was bedridden at a nursing home since October 11th until her death, and she required medical and ambulance transport with support staff whenever she was being moved anywhere. The earliest she would’ve last used a public cab would’ve definitely been prior to her fall and broken pelvis on October 11th. Although she did use the cab at times before this injury, she mostly relied on myself, my daughter, my husband, and the occasional friend, for rides when she needed to go to the doctor or the store. I wish I could tell you more about this withdrawal, but I have no idea why it would be taken out of my mother’s account. As I have stated numerous times in this ongoing process of examining my mother’s financials, my mother was in charge of her own accounts and I was merely acting for her when she asked because she was physically incapacitated.

4… Bayshore Apartments is where my mother lived. The withdrawal on December 4th was taken out to pay for her rent, just as it was taken out automatically early each and every month since she moved into that apartment. I can only use my best reasoning, though I certainly can’t ask her or verify it for you, but I would assume that this bill got paid because my mother was not planning on dying that night and thus would not have cancelled the automatic withdrawal. I’m just guessing, but I’d think she was hoping she would have a place to live should she survive.

My mother fell and broke her pelvis on October 11th, 2014. My oldest child was moving away that very week to a prestigious musical theater college in New York City, which required extensive preparation and time to accomplish. My barely 18-year-old daughter ended up flying to college in NYC alone, because I couldn’t leave my mom. We had also just closed and moved into a very large old home two weeks earlier, in the end of September of 2014. So I was still unpacking and getting organized, having dryer vents put in and a new dishwasher installed. Trimming bushes so that we could park in the driveway.

I have 4 children. My oldest was 18 years at the time of my mother’s injury on October 11th. My youngest was not yet 5 months old. I also had a 16-year-old brand new driver and a 4-year-old who had just started 4K. My husband works in an office in downtown Milwaukee and commutes 3 hours each day to our home in Beaver Dam. This particular time in my life that you continue to question me about was the busiest, most stressful and most traumatizing of my entire life. I was breastfeeding a very small baby full-time, promoting my first novel that had just been published a few months earlier, and I had deadlines as both a freelance journalist and professional theater photographer. All of this along with caring for my recently very ill mother that no one believed was wasting away before my eyes.

I have done my best to supply you with the information you’ve requested, but most of my time then was spent going from contractors for home repairs to babies in need of nursing to visiting my mother and caring for her apartment, her cat and her needs every day, as well as the needs of all my children. I had a mile long to-do list each day and I plugged through it. Whatever didn’t get done got added to the next list. A paper list that I carried around in my pocket everywhere I went so I could stay on track in the madness. It was by far the most hectic and difficult time of my life. Still, the state of Wisconsin seems to continue to ask me to relive it. So I am telling you all of this with as much detail as I can, in hopes that it will finally satisfy you that my mother died as poverty-stricken as she lived. It’s interesting how much the state cares so much now in the name of thoroughness, because the only answer I ever got when she was alive was that no one could help her.

Through my mother’s last 7 weeks on this earth, she was bedridden at the Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam. She was given pain pills regularly because of the pain from the broken pelvis, as well as the lung cancer, and her health declined as the days and weeks went on. I contacted everyone that I could, trying to get her more help. She couldn’t breathe. Her stats were terrible. No one listened, or seemed to care. She was just an old women with no money that they were going to let die.

She was not seen by a doctor for over a week after her pelvic fracture and the nurses at the nursing home merely followed the ER doctor’s instructions for temporary care. She was not given her normal medications since no one was in charge, it seemed. I called everyone I could think of during that week, trying to get her help. Her regular doctor didn’t have privileges at Golden Living Center so she just wasn’t seen. I was told to call her case worker, to call varying offices and numbers, all with, “the State of Wisconsin,” in the name. I got passed from office to office, person to person. It seemed that no one knew how to help her. I got passed along for 7 full days with no answers.  She was finally seen by a doctor 8 days after her injury. I have to wonder how this outcome could’ve been different if someone was in charge of making sure my severely ill elderly mother got to see a doctor sooner. But as it turns out, that was the one and only time my mother was seen by a doctor while she resided at Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam. One other time, after I insisted numerous times that certain labs and blood work be done for my mother, and she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, where they removed 16 ounces of fluid in her lungs and found she was severely anemic. Just as I had suspected and fought to have her tested for. But without me calling and begging and pleading, everyone was fine with her suffering and not being seen or cared for.

Through the last 7 weeks of my mother’s life, I spent hours on the telephone trying to improve the quality of her life. The nursing home dropped and broke her teeth, so she was unable to eat very much of anything after that. I took to purchasing and bringing her soft foods, making her pudding and oatmeal and soups. I brought her almond milk and chocolate milks and coconut water and juices. Anything to get calories into her. Because no one else seemed concerned that she lost 25 pounds in the 7 weeks she was there. Again, I could go no one to listen.

The thing about the poverty-stricken elderly is that it seems no one cares about them. And they are often too sick and too weak to speak for themselves. I screamed from the hilltops as an advocate for my mom, fighting for medical transports and someone to pay attention that she was not being seen or checked on by a physician. That she couldn’t breathe. Always, I was referred to call a place that started with “State of Wisconsin” just like it states on the top of the letters that you keep sending to me. I was told they had to approve it or find a doctor or decide if she was in terminal care or temporary care. I had to call constantly about her therapy and her insurance. Her doctor that never came to see her. And then, hospice. This was a constant, daily occurrence. While my mother was alive and suffering, I couldn’t get a soul from this state to care or do anything. Apparently the dying don’t have a department in charge of being thorough with their actual physical care. But now that she’s dead, there is much interest in her 29-year-old car and why she paid rent for the month that she died. It’s an interesting comparison, at the very least.  Something that, as a journalist, makes me want to show the world how terribly wrong we are doing it when it comes to our old and dying poor. The research I’ve been doing shows that this is more normal than exception. That no one cares for those that are dying in poverty, merely the money they might leave behind. It seems so satirical to me, since the poor (by definition) don’t have money.

My mother was a 68-year-old disabled woman who survived on food stamps and state medical assistance for many years, meaning that she repeatedly proved her level of poverty to the state of Wisconsin many times over during that period. At least 2 to 4 times per year for 10 years straight since she got on disability, she provided copies of bills and her bank account statements.  I am unsure of what exactly you are looking to uncover here in my mother’s estate, but I assure you that mother died with a lot less money than what would even cover her funeral expenses that I paid for. You have documented proof of that, actually. A check from myself and my husband to the Koepsell Funeral Home for nearly $3,000. That does not even account for the grave marker that I have yet to even purchase.

I appreciate you being through. I realize that it’s your job. I just wish someone could’ve been 1/10th as thorough with my mother while she was suffering and struggling to breathe and unable to keep food down for the months until her death. I wish THAT was someone’s job. And I wish that I could lay my mother to rest now, rather than kicking up her ghost while I list off the memories of her hardest time, digging through our precious text messages so you can see receipts of her wishes, to show the State of Wisconsin, again, how little money my mom had. And how much money and time and energy my husband and I spent trying to save her. To attempt to make her more comfortable. And then to bury and honor her in the way we ALL deserve.

I sincerely hope that this matter is closed and settled. As much as I have been a willing and helpful participant in settling my mother’s estate for her, I feel I’ve reached my limit of what I remember or can help you with. I can think of no real reason this case is taking up so much time and state resources, especially since my mother proved so many times in her life that she was extremely poor.

In all honestly, re-opening the wounds of my mother’s death every couple months in the name of your research on an obviously impoverished woman is starting to feel more like emotional harassment than thoroughness.

I have listed off here for you every detail that I can remember from that time, in hopes that it will be enough for you, finally, and you will allow me to set this down now and let my mother rest in peace.

Best,

Michelle Roth Baade

  1. P.S. I have enclosed a photo of my mother that I took on Halloween of 2014 where she is pictured with my youngest child, Lincoln. I would like this photo included in her file, to show that she was a person, a human being who was full of even joy in the darkest of times. I’d like her face to go along with your records. Thank you.
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