PBS’ Nine to Ninety: Three Generations Face Questions of Aging

Phyllis and Joe Sabatini (source: NextAvenue)

Juli Vizza, 44, is an Emmy award-winning producer and editor who typically tells the stories of others in her documentaries. Recently, she witnessed her Aunt Sarah struggling with the caregiving of her sick grandparents, Joe and Phyllis Sabatini (who are 89 and 90, respectively), while also caring for her 9 year old niece, Jaqueline.  Her mother, Angie, was also a caregiver, but from 3,000 miles away. She knew her family couldn’t be the only ones in this situation, so she made them the subject of a PBS documentary designed to help others. Her documentary, Nine to Ninety will air on PBS throughout the month of January, telling the story of her “sandwich generation” family, and how they cope with caring for multiple generations of family members.

Although she is only 4’ 7,’’ “grandmom” Phyllis stands tall as she faces life with both courage and determination. She is steadfast as she completes her daily routine of calisthenics, prepares her own meals, and stays on top of her medications. Unfortunately, Joe is the opposite, and seems to have given up. He’s detached and prefers to sleep most of the day. Phyllis loves her family, and she especially enjoys the time she spends with Jacqueline. However, despite her attempts at being as independent as possible, she sees how much strain taking care of both her and Joe is putting on them and feels guilty about burdening her daughters. She realizes that something has to change.

Juli’s Family is Forced to Make Difficult Decisions 

As Phyllis and Joe are struggling with worsening health problems, their daughters are working from two coasts to stay on top of the many medical appointments and therapies. At the same time, when the family is hit by the news that Joe has been diagnosed with kidney failure, Phyllis becomes even more concerned about the increasing caregiving work that her daughter’s family would have to take on if both she and Joe remain living with them (especially since Joe needs to undergo dialysis treatments).  After troubled reflection, Phyllis declares she wants to move back to the East Coast. She would like to move to a facility where professionals can help her, as needed, but realizes that the family just doesn’t have the money. She decides to move in with her other daughter, with the hope of easing the burden on her youngest daughter, Sarah. But this means leaving her husband of 62 years, 3,000 miles away. 

Phyllis Says, “We’ve Got to Talk About It!” 

While the entire family is afraid of the impending goodbyes and becomes more and more anxious, Phyllis approaches the inevitable with courage and practicality. “We’ve got to talk about it!” she tells them. One evening Phyllis sits down with her daughters and granddaughter and brings out her jewelry. Jacqueline wonders aloud if this is her grandmother’s “passing away ceremony.” Unable to face that reality, Phyllis’ daughters avoid the question as she explains that this is the time for her to give these precious things to the younger generation. 

Watch the preview of Nine to Ninety on Vimeo. 

  • The Need to Have the Conversation: According to Vizza, one of the goals of the film is to empower families to start discussing the needs and desires of the older members, what expectations they have for their care, and how they can accomplish their goals. Through a campaign of community screenings, educational events, and public television broadcasts of the film, Vizza’s aim is to inspire these conversations, and to help connect families with the resources that exist around them. She hopes the campaign can provide the tools to help foster comprehensive conversations between healthcare professionals and patients, providers and clients, and caregivers with family members.  For more details about having difficult family conversations, please read our recent article, “Facing the Elephant in the Room.”
  • The Stress Sandwich Generation Families Face: Caring for kids and parents at the same time is extremely challenging. However, there are ways to work around the challenges. This film shed light on the stresses faced by sandwich generation families. For tips on how to handle the stress, please see our recent article, “It’s Not Just the “Sandwich Generation” – It’s a Triple-Decker.”
  • The Need to Plan Ahead:  From the article, it seems the Sabatini’s did not plan for long-term care. Had they engaged an experienced Elder Law attorney to protect their assets and get Phyllis and/or Joe on Medicaid, they would have the option of nursing home care for either or both of them, even if they couldn’t afford the catastrophic costs otherwise.

Medicaid Asset Protection

Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be completely spent to pay for the devastating expenses of long-term care, while helping to ensure that you (or your loved one) get the best possible long-term care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. This process is also called Life Care Planning because it is designed to be an ongoing, life-long process.

Medicaid Asset Protection can be started any time after a person enters the “long-term care continuum,” meaning that a person is starting to need assistance with Activities of Daily Living (eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, transferring, and walking) or Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (such as cooking, cleaning, caring for pets, paying bills and managing finances). This type of planning can be started while you are still able to make legal and financial decisions, or can be initiated by a spouse or an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care assistance. In fact, the majority of our Medicaid Asset Protection clients come to us when nursing home care is already in place or is imminent.

If you are still healthy and not yet on the “long-term care continuum,” then the type of Medicaid Asset Protection Planning you should consider is our Living Trust Plus Asset Protection Trust, which is a simpler and less expensive method of Medicaid asset protection for clients who will most likely not need any long-term care for at least five years.

Nursing homes in the DC Metro area cost $10-12,000 a month. To protect your family’s hard earned money and assets from these catastrophic costs, the best time to create your long-term care strategy is before you actually need long-term care. If you’re over 65, we recommend that you begin your asset protection planning now. But even if you are currently receiving services for yourself or a loved one, it’s never too late to plan.

If you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care or if you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

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