As president of the Heritage Woods Residents’ Council in Yorkville, 80-year-old Gloria Deizman is on a crusade.
And she’s not going to give up until she gets a resolution that at least includes the attention of the people of Springfield who are charged with watching over the citizens of this state, especially the most vulnerable.
Deizman, a retired real estate agent and now outspoken leader of his peers, includes himself in this category.
That’s because she, like the vast majority of residents at this Yorkville assisted living facility, lives on a very fixed income. In his case, the 2007 recession upended his retirement plans, which now include relying on Medicaid to get through those years.
According to the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, every Medicaid-eligible resident in supportive living facilities — an alternative to nursing homes that provide personal care and other services while allowing residents to live independently and participate in decision-making – must have an income equal to or greater than the current level of Supplemental Security Income and must pay all but $90 each month to the provider for accommodation, meals and services.
This $90 Personal Needs Allowance (or PNA) is intended to cover personal expenses not covered by Medicaid.
The problem: good old inflation.
Diezman tells me that by the time she pays for cable, phone, and internet, she has about $12 left. What didn’t go so far a few years ago and now, “is getting so ridiculous that there’s not even money to buy an ice cream bar,” she insists.
“I see all these inhabitants who have nothing. I listen to the things they did in their past lives – they all paid taxes, made a living. The state gives everything else to everyone,” she says. “But they forget the seniors.
“I can’t imagine there aren’t thousands of people affected by this.”
Cheri Papa may not see thousands, but as Resident Services Coordinator at Heritage Woods, where the vast majority are on Medicaid, she certainly sees a lot.
The facility provides three meals a day, but if residents “want a bowl of fruit or a peanut butter sandwich for a snack, it comes out of their own pockets,” she told me.
And, while “we have a lot of good families here” who can provide their seniors with extra spending money for those trips to Walmart or Target or eating out, some don’t have that option, Papa continued. , or are too proud to ask relatives for money because they want to maintain their independence.
“This is where it gets difficult,” she said, adding that she tries to provide extras from her activity budget when possible.
All of us, of course, have been affected by inflation. Recently at a grocery store, State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, told me he had a look at the price of a bag of chips his daughter asked for – $6.49 – and forced her to put them back on the shelf.
It’s no wonder he offered a listening ear when Deizman finally got his hands on the Republican state rep from the 50th district.
After reviewing her concerns, Wheeler wasn’t sure how long the $90 allowance would last, but told me it seemed like a number of years. (A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services could not confirm by press time “the date this amount took effect.”)
Impressed by Deizman’s passion, the Oswego State Rep vowed to “do more homework” but warned that raising the NAP “will not be an easy task” as some members of the life support industry will likely oppose it.
Wheeler, however, sees a “way forward” by modifying the code by “tying the problem to inflation”.
Every cause needs a champion to make change happen, he reminded me, noting that another crusader from Yorkville, whose daughter was gang-raped at a party, volunteered. a few years ago to work with him to pass Bill 2135 in 2019 which removed the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual assault in Illinois.
While it’s easy to dismiss comparisons between a crime bill and one that would put more spending money in the pockets of Medicaid seniors, “what Gloria is asking for is still important,” insisted Wheeler, noting how seniors rely on cable, the Internet, and phones to communicate.
It’s not just about quality of life, of course. It is also a question of dignity.
“Yes, I live in a beautiful place, I have a roof over my head and three meals a day. So people might want to know what I’m complaining about,” Deizman said, adding that she’s also “blessed” with a girl who tries to help out when possible.
“But there are some here who don’t have families and who are really struggling,” she insisted. “These are the things that break my heart.”
This is why the President of the Residents Council of Heritage Woods in Yorkville won’t stop listening and certainly won’t stop cruising.
“I hope,” she said, “this opens the door to some much-needed conversation.”