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Senators Hear Caregivers' Concerns

December 1, 2005 By:
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It took years to reach this point, but Mania Perel is convinced that in order to salvage her heath and her sanity, she must do what was once unthinkable, and put her husband of more than 50 years into a nursing home.

The problem for the Northeast Philadelphia woman is that, currently, there's no room at a kosher facility. And even if there were, she's not sure how she would pay for it.

"I have to be with him night and day. He's completely losing his mind," said Perel of her husband, who suffers from severe dementia. "I can't take any more; I'm tired. I went through eight concentration camps. I survived the Nazis, I survived Hitler, I survived Auschwitz."

Perel's face was covered with tears as she addressed an audience at the JCC Klein Branch that included roughly 50 health professionals, social-service workers and administrators, along with two members of Congress: Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who heads the Senate Republican Conference, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Rivka Powers, director of social services for the JCCs, said that several Jewish agencies were working to help Perel, but could not say more due to privacy concerns. Perel and Santorum spoke briefly after the event about her husband's case.

Problems of Aging
The Oct. 14 town-hall meeting at the Klein branch was initiated by Santorum, who has attended several such events throughout the state to learn more about issues related to long-term care. The panel of speakers, which included Perel, focused largely on the issue of finding ways to help caregivers, children, spouses, relatives or friends who take on the difficult responsibility of caring for a loved one.

According to Santorum, Pennsylvania has the second-largest number of residents over age 65, and the number of residents older than 85 is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2015.

"We are a good laboratory to see how we are going to deal with these problems," said Santorum, before correcting himself. "Challenges. These are challenges, not problems."

Santorum, though, has a challenge of his own to look forward to, perhaps explaining his visit here: trying to get re-elected in 2006. Back in September, the Keystone Poll gave the two-term incumbent a 13 percentage point deficit against the leading Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Bob Casey.

Powers, who organized the panel, said that she included Perel in the program because she illustrated the financial, emotional, and physical hardships that can be placed on caregivers. Several other speakers asked the senators to fund a plethora of initiatives that could make life easier for such people, including adult day-care centers and home help.

Director of senior-center services for the JCCs Michael Domer stated that his goal was to make an impact on the politicians.

"I'm hoping they got a good overview as to what the concerns are - I'm hoping something will come of it," he said. "Funding is a big issue. Dollars and sense are always a problem."

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