My mother has been an inspiration throughout my life. She taught me to stand up for those who need a voice, care for our earth and appreciate the arts.
Now that mom is in her later years, I try to do all I can to make sure she can age with dignity and have quality in her life. But it isn't always easy. As a 91-year-old two-time cancer survivor with Alzheimer's, my mother faces many health challenges, and meeting her needs is an ongoing challenge.
Between Congressional votes and meetings, I am often on the phone with doctors, pharmacies, caregivers and insurance companies. When prescription medications change, we aren't sure how much of the cost will be her responsibility. I'm still sorting out coverage for the bill she incurred when she went to a skilled nursing facility after a fall last summer, and we discovered that the wheelchair we rented (should we buy one?) was too wide to get through the doorways in my home.
Finding a care facility that better meets her needs required hours of research, many tours and planning over several months.
My family's experiences are not unique. Many who care for aging parents face similar challenges, and far too often lack access to the support they need. Too many seniors do not have family members who are able to help, so they're often left to find assistance on their own, if they can find it at all.
I recently convened a roundtable conversation in Washington County to discuss the issues that matter to seniors and their caregivers. Those who attended told me about how important it is to increase resources for local support organizations, provide opportunities for seniors to socialize while receiving nutritious meals and care for those who have historically been marginalized — like aging members of the LGBTQ community.
The Older Americans Act (OAA) can help. In Congress, I'm leading the effort to pass the Dignity in Aging Act, a much-needed update to the OAA. This bill is the backbone of community-based programs and services that already provide services to nearly 11 million aging Americans.
My bill, which recently passed the House with broad bipartisan support, will meaningfully increase funding for many programs and services, like Meals on Wheels, that people in Northwest Oregon and across the country already know and appreciate. But it also will do much more. It includes increased outreach to underserved populations, more support for family caregivers and targeted efforts to combat social isolation. These and other updates will directly improve the lives of older individuals and their families across the country.
We have a moral obligation to care for those who came before us. I encourage the Senate to fulfill that responsibility by passing the Dignity in Aging Act so we can quickly provide additional, desperately needed assistance to seniors and their caregivers. I will do all I can to get this bill signed into law, and I will continue working to make sure that all seniors are able to get the care they need to age with dignity.
I wouldn't be who I am today without my mother. And I'm certain that many Oregonians and Americans would say the same about their aging loved ones. It is now our turn to care for them.
Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton serves in the U.S. House of Representatives in Oregon 1st Congressional District, which covers much of Northwest Oregon, from Portland to the coast.
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