Viewpoint: Letter to the Editor

Originally published by The Maui News on January 26, 2017. Read it there.
By Carmen Hulu Lindsey

I was honored to be present on the Senate floor as a guest of Sen. Michelle Kidani during the opening day ceremonies at the state Legislature this year and watch her election as vice president. It was also heartening to read in the program for the day the Senate’s affirmation of its commitment to Ola Lehulehu –People and Communities.

Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English wrote of being “energized to succeed” on several fronts: “climate change, preparedness, justice and community well-being.” He affirmed, as did the Senate President Ronald Kouchi, in his remarks, the Senate’s attentiveness to “our values.” I write to express the hope that those values will lead them to act on behalf of our kupuna, to take the first step toward holding out a helping hand to family caregivers who are carrying the enormous burden of looking after aging loved ones at home.

There are thousands of these silent, unheralded caregivers across the islands doing the heroic work of making it possible for kupuna to age in their own homes and end their days in dignity. I know some of these quiet heroes. One of them is a colleague who probably could have worked another decade or more, but who chose early retirement so that he could help his wife, who also has a career, to look after her mother. Her mother needs assistance with daily living.

This couple has rearranged their whole life to accommodate the needs of their kupuna. They have moved out of their own home and moved into the mother’s home so that she could have the comfort of continuing to live in her home without disruption. This is love. This is sacrifice.

Things don’t always work out in as orderly a way as it did for this couple.

Take the example of an uncle I know in his 80s who is as stubborn as they come! He insisted he could manage at home by himself, taking in boarders, who unfortunately soon took advantage of him. His children intervened and he eventually settled into a care home. But he still pines for his old home and dreams of returning to that home someday. That is an unlikely prospect, but one that perhaps might have been feasible if we had better systems in place to help kupuna age in place.

The Kupuna Care Assistance bill that is being advanced in the Senate is an important step in the direction of helping family caregivers look after their loved ones at home. It will provide a modest sum of $70 a day to pay for additional qualified help to assist with housework, take kupuna for their hospital appointments or simply give the full-time family caregivers a brief respite. This is important because it will allow caregivers to continue working, take fewer days off for emergencies, and protect their own financial well-being as they themselves age. Leaving their jobs prematurely impacts the caregivers’ retirement income when they themselves will need it and causes businesses to lose experienced employees.

The Kupuna Care Assistance bill is something that benefits the whole community, not just our beloved kupuna and their dedicated caregivers. If we are truly committed to our values, we will each do all we can to ensure that this small step toward giving our kupuna the care they deserve in their sunset years becomes a reality in Hawaii.

I am lucky in that I still live independently and I have my children living on the same island. But I can envisage a time when having professional caregivers help me and my daughters will be something we will welcome.

I know I speak for many families and I hope our legislators are listening.

* Carmen Hulu Lindsey is the Maui trustee on the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a businesswoman and an award-winning musician.