by Sam Nickles
Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of talking with family members of two older gentlemen that we work with intensively. One is in jail, but we manage his disability income and savings, pay his bills, and make a weekly deposit at the jail so he has access to cash to pay for needed items (an unfortunate reality in our jail system). He has severe mental illness and has burned all family bridges over the years. I reached out to his daughter and have updated her on his situation, and his brother calls me periodically. Neither will see or visit him due to the trauma he has caused them in the past, but they have both expressed how appreciative they are to OCP for our support and care for him and our willingness to manage his funds and meet his needs, which they can no longer do.
The other fellow is a long-term alcoholic who lived on the streets of Harrisonburg for 11 years before we got him into public housing last year. Our case manager Marco works closely with him to manage his caregiver (who we pay), his physical therapist, his Medicaid and doctor visits and medicines, and his visitors (to limit their ability to bring him alcohol). His precarious position is due to cirrhosis of the liver and cognitive decline. OCP is rep payee for him and we manage his payments and bills, since he is not able to do so on his own. I (Sam) spent a week trying to track down family members, since we were concerned that he may die and we needed next of kin info. At the hospital he listed his 90-year-old father as next of kin, but there was no address and the phone number belonged to OCP. He doesn’t remember the address of his father. I finally found a FB page I thought might be his daughter in northern Virginia and wrote her a message. A couple days later she responded yes, he is her father. How is he? Who are you? Why are you calling me? What do you do with him? I invited her to come down to visit him in the hospital, and she did so 2 days later. It’s the first time I’ve ever met any of his family. She enjoyed the visit, but he showed little interest in learning about his two grandchildren, I imagine because he was still ill in the hospital but he also now suffers from some pretty significant cognitive issues. Soon after that, a brother called from North Carolina. A couple weeks later I got a call from a woman who works for the Roanoke region United Methodist Church and said she is his step-sister. Last time she visited Harrisonburg 3 years ago she had to search the streets, but finally found him. He did not recognize her. All of these folks expressed a deep appreciation for what OCP is doing for their father and brother. Like the other gentleman, they have tried to care for their loved one, but sometimes it is just too hard. Yet they take comfort that OCP is there, that we are doing the day-to-day work with folks that no longer have access to support from their families, who have burned bridges, yet who are in deep need, and who are human beings still worthy of dignity and respect. In these moments I recognize how privileged we are to be able to do the work we do.