Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Of the 60,000 military personnel present for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, about 3,000 are still alive. Seventy-four of them belong to the San Diego Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Their numbers are rapidly declining and the vast majority of them are in their late 80s or 90s. They are a national treasure, a link to an important place and time in American history.
When they are gone, this living link will die with them. During their days on earth, they should be afforded the utmost respect and gratitude this nation has to offer.
In many ways, 93-year-old Arnold V. “Max” Bauer considered himself a typical but proud Pearl Harbor survivor. He had a special Pearl Harbor survivor’s license plate on his car. He appeared in a documentary about the attack in 2009. Now he is in the news again, but for all the wrong reasons. After his wife of 62 years died in 2007, he grew frail and a caregiver, 63-year-old Milagros Angeles, moved into his suburban San Diego County home.
Several months ago, Angeles was arrested when sheriff’s deputies discovered she and Bauer were living in unimaginable squalor. Alert employees at Bauer’s Chase Bank branch became suspicious about the absence of activity on his account and reported it to authorities. Angeles has been charged with elder abuse, false imprisonment, theft by a caretaker and being in possession of altered checks. Authorities found $9,000 in cash in her bedroom. Prosecutors said Angeles had written 56 checks to herself totaling $5,600. She had pled not guilty.
While she awaited trial, in November 2011 Max Bauer died of pneumonia after several months in a veterans rest home. Authorities suspect his illness was as a direct result of the neglect by his caregiver. Now the San Diego District Attorney’s office is investigating to determine whether Angeles should be charged with the murder of Max Bauer.
It is a bold move, and I applaud the Elder Abuse Unit for considering it. This episode is so painful to me on several levels. First, that one of our nation’s most venerable and noble citizens should ever be subjected to this kind of treatment.
But even more so, as the president and founder of a private duty home care agency for 28 years, without a doubt that this should not have happened. Not if whoever hired Angeles as Bauer’s caretaker had been diligent in doing his or her homework and hiring a caregiver from a reputable, accredited agency that does background checks on all its employees and maintains independent supervision of them. See this helpful checklist with the type of questions a person should ask before hiring a caregiver.
My great fear is that we are now going to see this happen more often, due to the threatened loss of the Companionship Exemption as recommended by the U.S. Labor Department and supported by President Obama.
Many more families will resort to hiring people through Craigslist or the like without having the ability to conduct background checks or properly supervise their loved ones’ caregiver, because it will cost them more to hire someone legally and pay them increased wages or overtime pay. They will roll the dice and pay someone under the table.
The good news is this: it is possible with minimal assistance from a professional caregiver provided through a reputable organization for seniors to stay safely in their homes and maintain their autonomy, dignity, and independence. But it must be allowed to remain affordable. The Companionship Exemption has worked perfectly well for decades. There is no reason to change it other than pressure from labor unions who want to organize these home care workers.
Those of us concerned about the welfare of seniors and the disabled and the ability of their families to secure high quality care must speak up and let the Labor Department know that we oppose removal of the Companionship Exemption when the mandatory 60-day comment period begins. See the January 9 LifeCycles column to learn how.
In addition, we must as a society devote more resources to this type of support and we must ensure it is cost-effective. It is the most humane way to care for the men and women who devoted themselves to their family and to their nation. We owe them this much.
Max Bauer was honored during services commemorating the anniversary of the attack n Pearl Harbor in San Diego this past December 7. Bauer’s cremated ashes will eventually be scattered at the Pearl Harbor National Monument.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!