This was written in Cindy's voice and hand in November of 2019 by Ernie Corrigan following an interview.
Cindy Fleming - Before I entered a nursing home in Worcester, Massachusetts five years ago, I had honestly never been in a nursing home. Neither of my parents ever required that level of care. I am 67 years old and this is my life as it really is.
Details fade in and out now ever since I had a stroke more than five years ago, although I don’t remember that stroke or the time that I apparently spent in a hospital recovering. I don’t remember actually having a home to leave, so I tell people who ask that I was homeless before I came here. In any case, I know that I cannot live on my own because the stroke has made me forgetful. People here say that I have dementia.
What I do know is that without the care I receive here I would probably not be alive. I can’t be trusted to take the medication that I need and I know that without the help of the staff here I probably would forget to eat or do the things that people normally do on their own.
On my birthday in October, I was told that someone was here to see me. I thought it must have been one of my two sons, but it turned out to be my ex-husband. I was naturally surprised to see him and surprised when he hugged me as he was leaving, crying, telling me that he loved me and was sad to be leaving me. When one of the staff members told me I had a call from one of my sons, my ex-husband told me I needed to take the call. He then left, still crying.
When people talk about how nursing home care is suffering because of a lack of state funding, they are mostly thinking about the frail elderly who live in nursing homes. They are not thinking about people like me, in their 60s, who seem physically well. But there are many people around me here who are closer to my age than those residents who are in their 80s and physically failing.
When people talk about how many nursing homes are closing nowadays, I think of those very frail older folks and how they are going to survive if their nursing homes close. But I also think about people like me who also cannot live outside of these medical facilities. Where are they going to go if enough nursing homes close and there is no room for them – no room for me?
I remember many of the details of my past life, growing up in nearby Grafton, attending the local public schools and then graduating from Framingham State College with a degree in education. I then spent my career as a preschool teacher, taught kindergarten and even ran my own daycare center. I love children and felt blessed that I could do that work every day. If I could just be who I was before the stroke, I would still be teaching children.
But that all seems a long time ago.
My teacher’s pension and the Social Security I receive is now all spent on my care. What isn’t covered is paid for by Medicaid. I am not worried about my pension or social security, but I do worry that people like me who have worked hard all of their lives are being left behind by Medicaid. After my healthcare bills have been paid, I am left with just $87 a month that I can spend.
I have a dream that one day I can go back to teaching children, but I know that isn’t going to happen. I keep myself busy helping other residents here with daily issues, getting them things they need or just being a friend. Some of them worry that they will be forgotten by Medicaid or forced to leave here with no place to go if this place is closed. I try to assure them that they will not be forgotten, but sometimes I am also unsure.
I never knew what it was like to be in a nursing home. Now I can’t imagine living outside of here.
Cindy Fleming has been at The Hermitage Healthcare center since 2014 after suffering a stroke. Some of the details of this account were told to her at her request in preparation for this story. While she remembers her life before her stroke, she says she is mostly living “day to day” and is trying to maintain a positive attitude.
Cindy and Janelle Fairbrother at the Massachusetts State House
Cindy with Damian Dell'Anno, CEO