Senior Options: Carol Johnson

Parent’s Concierge: Velvet Miller

Forsgate Elder Classes

Elder Classes II: Barbara Andrews

Power of Attorney: Marilyn Askin

Corrections or additions?

Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 14, 2000. All rights reserved.

Options in Elder Care


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Senior Options: Carol Johnson

Program directors of clubs and business organizations

can schedule a presentation on the hot topic for the boomer generation,

elder care. Carol Johnson of the Lawrenceville-based Senior

Options offers just such a program, called "Navigating the Maze."

She sorts out the alternatives available, including home health care,

live-in custodial help, nursing home placement, assisted living communities,

and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).

Senior Options, established a couple of months ago, provides professional

nursing assessments and care planning, care monitoring, and assistance

in choosing living alternatives (609-620-9682; fax, 609-620-1836, "Our goal is to preserve the dignity and

independence of the individual," says Johnson.

To the business of helping people choose alternatives, Johnson brings

a varied set of experiences. The daughter of a master sergeant in

the U.S. Air Force, she grew up in Baltimore and has two grown daughters.

After 10 years as a registered nurse, she went into real estate, managed

the Princeton Junction branch office of Richardson Realty, and then

worked at two continuing care retirement communities (Presbyterian

Homes at Meadow Lakes and Monroe Village) and was marketing director

at Morris Hall, St. Mary’s residential and assisted living community.

Johnson is licensed in New Jersey as a registered nurse, an assisted

living administrator, and a real estate associate-broker.

"I cannot believe the calls I am getting," says Johnson. "Discharge

planners call me to help clients decide what their options are. If

someone is discharged to their family’s rather than their own home,

I tell them about their options. A lot of people don’t understand

the advantages and the limitations of the assisted living facilities."

Though there are other geriatric counselors in the area, Johnson brings

the experience of an R.N. and an administrator to her work. At an

hourly rate of $55 she helps individuals and families decide whether

to try to stay home or get placed in a facility. "New Jersey provides

some counseling assistance, but what I do is narrow it down locally

and to a particular facility. I specialize in Mercer, Bucks, Yardley,

South Middlesex — I know those facilities backwards and forwards."

For $300 she can also do a full nursing assessment and report that

can be used for an application to a facility. "The facility will

have a better idea of whether that person meets the requirement,"

she says. "The average assessment takes two to three hours."

"Many people want to be reassured they are doing the right thing

for their parents," she says. "I have worked hands-on and

know how the facilities operate."

Most people don’t realize that — unlike nursing homes — each

assisted living facility can have its own admission and discharge

criteria. "In one assisted living home you could be incontinent

and be able to stay. In another, if you became incontinent, they could

discharge you," she says. Another common misconception is that

Medicaid can pay for assisted living stays. "There are no assisted

living communities in Mercer County currently accepting Medicaid,"

says Johnson. Most people also don’t know:

Long term "custodial" care in nursing homes or

assisted living is not covered by Medicare.

Assisted living is less regulated and differently regulated

than nursing homes. For example, assisted living staff ratios —

in most instances — are left to the provider to determine.

Full-time or 24-hour nurses are not required for assisted

living facilities.

If you run out of money in assisted living, you most probably

will have to find other placement. And though you may financially

qualify for a nursing home under Medicaid, you may not medically

qualify for a nursing home.

When someone needs a lot of care, assisted living could

end up costing more than a nursing home. This still will not be the

24-hour skilled nursing supervision that a nursing home provides.

Calculating how long assets will last in the different

options is difficult. and many people don’t know how to do it.

Results of yearly state surveys of facilities are easily

obtainable. Facilities are required to make them available upon request.

"What has intrigued me," says Johnson, "is 50 percent

of my calls are from women in their 70s and early 80s. They are taking

care of a spouse, or they realize their home is becoming too large

to take care of, with the yard work and the steps, and they starting

to feel overwhelmed. They are researching for the future."

— Barbara Fox

Senior Options, 13 Viburnum Court, Lawrenceville

08648. Carol Johnson. 609-620-9682; fax, 609-620-1836. Home page:

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Parent’s Concierge: Velvet Miller

High tech companies are in vogue, and Velvet G. Miller’s

new company — My Parent’s Concierge — does have some high

tech aspects. But you can’t take good care of an elderly person without

having some old-fashioned person-to-person encounters.

"Some have called us a high touch company," says Miller. "I

am proud to be that. We are a personal brokerage service for those

making decisions on behalf of elder and dependent relatives. We emphasize

sensitivity in whomever we deal with, across all cultures." Her

"concierge" service can take care of anything from paying

household bills to making health care arrangements.

Miller has been a nurse, a teacher, a social activist, and a policy

maker. A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, with degrees from Wagner,

Temple, Harvard, and Boston University, she was executive director

of a program for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and deputy commissioner

of the state department of human services (U.S. 1, February 3, 1999).

With Miller in the business are her husband, Cal Davis, an administrator

at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, and Judy Denby,

with more than 20 years experience in home health and a former editor

of the American Nurses Association’s magazine.

Corporations are finding that their employees are taking a lot of

time away from work in order to help with their parents’ care, says

Miller. "Helping with elder care can be a recruiting and retention


"Adult children say that they are being squeezed with competing

commands. We think this is the right niche at the right time,"

says Miller, whose company emphasizes diversity. "We know that

there are populations of color that also have money, and we will pay

attention to that population, too. We have a cadre of colleagues who

are culturally competent in several ethnic groups. If your aunt speaks

Lithuanian, we will send someone who speaks Lithuanian."

"We try to do more than provide information and referrals. We

can take some of the frustration out of decision-making," says

Miller, who considers her client to be the adult child with an aging

parent. "Our job is to help find the full array of services available

— whether finding transportation or a hair dresser, or making

social or living arrangements. We match the needs and present the


Using the services of Mark Feffer of Tramp Steamer Media, she

plans to put up a website that lets each client see the parent’s page

at any time of day or night to find out just exactly what is going

on with that parent. The report might say, for instance, "That

we have spoken with Annie Smith three times this week, have spoken

with three vendors, and the search is going well, that she doesn’t

like the mah jongg club she is with, and we will work to find some

other outlet, and so on," says Miller.

Another potential high tech piece of the interactive communication

system is a hookup via television or computer to allow for videoconferencing.

"I have seen that work and it is glorious," says Miller. "You

can pick up the phone and see your mom and it is like visiting."

"We are not high tech enough for venture capital money," says

Miller. "We are too high touch. But we like the blend."

My Parent’s Concierge, 219 Cornwall Avenue, Trenton

08618. Velvet G. Miller, CEO. 609-394-7104; fax, 609-394-6501.

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Forsgate Elder Classes

Social workers, health professionals, and others concerned

with the elderly — including the senior citizens themselves —

are invited to two workshops at the Residence at Forsgate. One on

June 15 is free and deals with elder fraud, one on June 21 (for which

a fee is charged) talks about various mental health problems for elder


Always be skeptical of unsolicited calls, says Alyson M. Cook,

who works for the Elder Fraud Investigations Unit in the department

of law and public safety. Cook speaks on Thursday, June 15, at 1:30

p.m. at the Residence at Forsgate in Jamesburg. The talk is free by

reservation; call 732-656-1000.

Frauds range from shady telemarketers, untruthful sales people, bank-based

scams, bad investment advice, and even sweepstakes scams. Cook’s advice:

Do not assume that a "charitable" solicitation is

legitimate . No matter how the appeal tugs at your heartstrings,

check with the Consumer Affairs Charities Hotline.

Never pay for a prize. Don’t even send money for postage,

shipping, or handling.

Do not give any numbers — credit card or Social Security

numbers — to people with whom you haven’t done business before.

Refuse to deal with a courier. If a telemarketer wants

to send someone to pick up your money, hang up.

Report consumer fraud or ask about charities by calling 973-504-6200

or 800-242-5846 at the Elder Fraud Action Line.

"Always get something other than a verbal spiel for your own records,"

says Cook. Elderly people can lose $5,000 or more per incident of

fraud, yet many seniors fail to admit they have been swindled. They

fear they will be ridiculed or that someone will say they should not

be living alone.

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Elder Classes II: Barbara Andrews

Barbara Andrews LCSW, a psychoanalyst based on

Bunn Drive, leads one of the workshops for the Gerontology Institute

of New Jersey on Wednesday, June 21, at 8:30 a.m. in "Post Traumatic

Stress Disorders." Andrews talks about how up to 10 percent of

the population show symptoms of severe trauma, including depression,

low self-esteem, hyper vigilance, flashbacks, or even pain symptoms.

Up to 60 percent of women, says Andrews, have experienced some form

of childhood sexual abuse.

The all-day seminar costs $60 for seniors who are in the industry,

$30 for those who are not. Call Beverly Sacharow at 732-257-4380,

E-mail: Sacharow says that the institute was founded

20 years ago in Milltown and focuses on educational seminars for which

continuing education credits are available. It also has an extensive

library of video tapes on the subject of gerontology.

Also in the program is Joseph McBride MSW, who focuses on bereavement,

chronic illness, and family issues. In "Death in the Family,"

he explains how to work with families in the grief process — exploring

death and facilitating systematic intervention. Gwenelle S. O’Neal,

on the faculty at West Chester University and a visiting professor

at Rutgers, will discuss "Engaging Clients in Groups," how

helping networks can be effective in treatment.

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Power of Attorney: Marilyn Askin

More important than drafting a will is granting power-of-attorney

to someone to act as your agent should you become disabled, says Marilyn

Askin, an attorney (973-731-2355) and new president of the New

Jersey State AARP. "As far as I’m concerned, a power-of-attorney

is far more important than a will because it protects the quality

of life while you’re alive," says Askin, who discusses "Legal

Tools for Financial Management" on Thursday, June 22, from 1 to

3 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Martin Cramer

of Ruden and Cramer, another elder law attorney, will also join in

the discussion. Call 800-FREE-LAW.

Roughly 90 percent of people Askin speaks with have wills but only

30 percent have power of attorneys — a legal instrument that authorizes

a person to handle the affairs of someone who is sick, disabled, or

deemed incompetent. Without a power of attorney, says Askin, "somebody

has to institute guardianship, a very lengthy, expensive, and demeaning

process because it strips the person of every civil liberty that they

have. Once guardianship is imposed, the person can’t decide on their

own whether to marry, write a will, or vote — their life is in

the hands of the guardian."

Petitioning for guardianship can also be an expensive process —

involving as many as two doctors and two lawyers to petition for the

guardian. "It may very well be that one of the children wants

to be a guardian and they may come into court and bring their own

attorney," says Askin. "You’re hiring all these people to

do something that could have been done by seeing a lawyer and getting

a good power of attorney drawn up."

In practice since 1970, Askin is an associate professor of law, teaching

elder law seminars, at Rutgers in Newark, where she received her law

degree during the `60s. She’s been working with the senior population

since 1978, when she began directing a free legal service program

for senior citizens in Essex County funded through the Older Americans

Act. "I was part of the generation in the 1950s where Chief Justice

Warren said `If you want to change the world, become a lawyer,’"

says Askin. "I went to law school to help people, not to make

money. Some of the problems with the senior community that we came

across involved these very issues — we wanted to make sure that

people had the proper documents so that they didn’t have to have guardianship

imposed upon them." Askin, who runs a private practice, recently

stepped down from the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association to become

president of NJ AARP.

A power of attorney for a joint bank account can be drafted at the

bank, but for a general durable power of attorney — which covers

all of a person’s assets — see a lawyer. Askin recommends these


Appoint two agents — one as back-up. "The person

you appoint should be the person nearest you," says Askin. "A

parent may favor the older child who lives in California but it’s

much more reasonable to have the person nearest, assuming they’re

trustworthy and capable."

Include a provision to make gifts. The agent should have

the option to make certain cash gifts to heirs, relatives, or others

in order to reduce the estate’s value to an amount specified by the

IRS as non-taxable. "This year everybody can die with $675,000

and not pay one cent in federal taxes," says Askin. "Let’s

say a person has $800,000. The person who has power of attorney should

have the option to make certain gifts to reduce the estate to under

$675,000." According to tax code, a person can leave any number

of people $10,000 without filing it on their return. "If a power

of attorney does not have a provision to make gifts, often the IRS

can come in and say we’re going to assume that the principal did not

want the agent to make gifts, therefore all the money that was given

away we want back in the taxable estate."

Empower the agent to change beneficiaries of insurance.

"Sometimes the beneficiary on an insurance policy has to be changed

after a person has become disabled — let’s say the beneficiary

is not there anymore," says Askin.

Another tip for seniors is to make sure Social Security benefits

are deposited directly into an account over which somebody has a power

of attorney, says Askin. Otherwise, should you become disabled, somebody

is likely to get entangled in red tape trying to collect those benefits

on your behalf. "That’s a bit more bureaucratic," says Askin,

"and not as reliable as being able to choose the person you trust."

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