Editorial | Island Voices
By Robert H. Stiver
Originally published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, March 16, 2017. Read it there.

Robert H. Stiver, of Pearl City, is a retired federal employee. He hopes lawmakers will give SB 534 and HB 607 a resounding “yes” vote for public policy that supports Hawaii Kupuna Caregivers.

I am passionate about caregiving. I have “been there and done that.” My beloved wife, Masako, was in need of caregiving, of an always increasing and more desperate urgency, for nearly all of the last 35 years of her life that ended on Aug. 19, 2016, in St. Francis Hospice. She was 79; I was 72 at the time of her passing.

Through those decades of multiple episodes of clinical depression, asthma/COPD and related allergy problems, pancreatic issues, Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed in 2013, and finally endometrial/uterine cancer in 2015-16, I tried to balance work (until my retirement in 1999), my own need to be fit and attentive to Masako, and the caregiving responsibility for which I was woefully unprepared and probably inadequate.

I hasten to credit the services of our Kaiser Permanente membership and the final-days’ compassionate caring of the St. Francis Hospice institutional team. But at the end of the day — and eventually the beginning, middle and end of every day — I was Masako’s sole support. I gave it my all in accordance with our marriage vows: a labor of love that was terrifying, all-consuming and exhausting.

The labor took a toll on my own spirit and body, mostly in the form of a severely crippled spine (I admit to an heredity disposition) that was ill-equipped for the deadweight — and amateurish/untrained — maneuvering of my Masako in her final months from bed to bathroom to living room and then the reverse.

It is important to consider financial impacts that pertain to caregiving.

In my case, I retired from my federal civil-service position as soon as I was eligible at age 55, with the concomitant income loss of about 50 percent. I almost surely would have persevered to age 65 or 70 but for my wife’s condition and need for care.

The simple arithmetic I can arrive at is that, say, 10 additional years of employment would have meant some $35,000 extra per annum as an income stream — $350,000.

Plus the federal and state taxes that would have bolstered government tax revenues (I, of course, have paid no state taxes since 1999); plus additional buying power to increase local businesses’ retail sales; plus the considerable uptick in my monthly retirement income for the remainder of my life.

It is an absolute fact that my caregiving for Masako hurt our “bottom line” severely and irrevocably. Also, Masako was a full-time homemaker who never became eligible for a Social Security pension; I have only my civil-service-retirement-system annuity, so mine is a “one check” retirement household.

I can only imagine the relief, and gratitude, I would have felt had a resource like the Hawaii Kupuna Caregivers program been available back in my caregiving days. Legislators now have the chance to make the resource a reality for those who have succeeded me. And who knows when I will assume the role of caregivee instead of caregiver?

The respite-relief aspects of the program, within the parameters to be applied to it, are growing in tandem with our aging population and constitute, I am convinced, a proper allocation of public funds to assist such a wide spectrum of our community.

And so I ask, I plead to lawmakers: Give Senate Bill 534/House Bill 607 a resounding “yes” vote.

In doing so, I believe they will be saying yes to a growing citizens’ movement for public policy that supports Hawaii Kupuna Caregivers.

Robert H. Stiver, of Pearl City, is a retired federal employee.