IN THE SUMMER OF 2001, my father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, at the age of eighty. Given only a few weeks to live, he was comfortably and properly situated in a military hospital. Yet despite the fact that he was a retired Air Force officer, hospital management began to pressure my mother, sister, and me to move him to a private nursing facility. I was confused and upset; I knew that he probably had every right to stay put, but I hadn’t the faintest idea how to argue his case. So a couple of days later, we found ourselves moving my father to a nursing home, setting up hospice care, and trying to negotiate the labyrinth of Medicare coverage for both. Small wonder that Dad quietly expired in his sleep after his first night in the home; he didn’t belong there in the first place.
According to the highly respected Atkinson Dinner Party Poll, I’m not the only one who’s been in—or will be in—this predicament. Indeed, it seems many Texans are woefully unprepared for what has become the state’s fastest-growing and least appreciated health care problem: taking care of Mom and Dad. Consider these statistics from the Texas Department on Aging (or maybe just consider the fact that Texas has a department on aging): There are 2.7 million Texans over age 60; a third of those are over 75. By