Senior Power: Q & A

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday September 21, 2010 - 03:07:00 PM

It’s six months since the first “Senior Power” column. I’ve received emails from as far as New Zealand and even Texas! I appreciate the positive comments. Some of the questions deserve an attempt at response. As Levi Strauss put it, “ An expert knows all the answers - if you ask the right questions. ” Here goes Q & A.  


“What’s that Save Section 8 you mentioned?” [Planet August 17, 2010].  

Save Section 8 was a nonprofit self-help, grass-roots effort in behalf of American senior citizens who needed, and continue to need, access to rent-subsidized apartments. It was founded in 1997 by Helen Lima, a retiree and Section 8 tenant. No admission or membership fees were charged, and voluntary contributions were the only source of income. Petitioning, picketing, and regular program meetings were major activities. As her health deteriorated, one of Lima’s final accomplishments was spearheading production of the video, “ Housing is a human right: seniors and Section 8;” it is in the Santa Clara City Library.  


“You mentioned phone numbers for reporting elder abuse. One was for Alameda County. Is there a Contra Costa County number?” [Planet June 1, 2010]. 

The Contra Costa County Area Agency on Aging is at 40 Douglas Dr., Martinez 94553-4068. 925/313-1700; Adult Protective Services’ numbers are 925-646-2854 and 877-839-4347. 


“Do you really believe there is such a thing as senior power and that writing letters and making phone calls contribute to change ?” 

It’s like sisterhood. Both sisterhood and senior power could be powerful. Resist the “What can I do?” exception syndrome. Write letters, with cc’s (i.e. clear copies) to advertisers, sponsors, ad agencies, products, services, mass media, networks, stations, newspapers. Don’t waste your money on registered mail. Write to your elected government representatives in your role as consumer, voter, tax payer, local resident, reader, subscriber. Request a written response (don’t provide your phone #). Cite a specific document or action. When commenting on a TV program, provide the air date, title of program and episode, and local channel number. When contacting a newspaper editor, provide issue date, volume or issue number, page number(s), and writer if identified. And vote! 


“These days one frequently hears about abuse of disabled placard cards so I’m surprised that you tout them.”  

Yes, I do refer to the placard (Planet April 27 and June 29, 2010, for example), but you have parked the cart after the horse. I advocate applying for and cherishing a no-fee placard if one is eligible within the definitions and parameters of the application form. It will greatly improve life. Get the application form online (CA DMV), print it out, and send or take it to your physician for her/his signature; then mail it to the address on the application. 

“Can you tell us what the ‘Elder Index’ is?” 

AB 324 (Beall) would require the California Department of Aging to update annually the Economic Security Standard Index (Elder Index) for each county and to use the Elder Index to make prescribed calculations and analyses relating to elders living below the Elder Index's poverty threshold. It would also require the Department to report Elder Index data to each service area included in the state plan and that local areas utilize the Elder Index when conducting analyses of need. This bill would also require area agencies on aging to update annually the intake form for the Linkages Program to include the most current Elder Index, in order to identify elders in economic need and refer these elders to other appropriate resources and programs. 

The federal Older Americans Act provides for various programs, including the Senior Community Service Employment program (SCSEP), an employment and training program for employed, low-income seniors, locally administered by area agencies on aging. This bill would require the area agencies on aging to use the Elder Index to track state-administered SCSEP participants’ progress toward economic sustainability. The Elder Economic Security Standard Index for California Seniors is supported by CARA (California Alliance for Retired Americans), which is holding its 7th Annual Convention, “Taking Back the State in 2010”, October 12-13, in Oakland. 

Introduced just two years ago, the Elder Index is far more accurate than the FPL because it is (Federal Poverty Level) a county-specific benchmark that shows how much it costs retired older adults to cover all of their most basic needs — food, housing, health care, and transportation — while living independently. 


“I was amazed to discover that Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aids. How can I get my elderly, deaf parents a special telephone without paying an arm and a leg?” [Planet May 30, 2010] 

Easy. Go online to the California Deaf and Disabled Communications Program. You can download an application form (English, Spanish, Chinese, Hmong) for a free specialized phone. 


“Whatever became of Maggie Cheng who used to be at the North Berkeley Senior Center?” 

You are probably referring to the one and only Maggie Cheng who was a full-time staff member of the North Berkeley Senior Center from November 1994 to April 2001 and, to my knowledge, the only Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking staff member the Center has ever had. She was offered professional advancement to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board staff. In the interim, she has received her B.S. degree from San Francisco State University in Business Administration with concentration in International Business, her job title has advanced, her son has graduated from UCB in Applied Mathematics with concentration in Computer Science, and they are still living in the East Bay. 


“You certainly panned taxi scrip. [Planet May 25, 2010]. I still want to apply.” 

Good for you. You can access via the Internet the Berkeley Paratransit Services for Senior Citizens and Persons with Disabilities. (It’s located in the city’s Housing and Community Services Department). Complete the Alameda County Non-ADA Paratransit Services [electronic] Application Form. This Taxi Scrip Program provides a limited amount of free scrip (i.e., temporary paper money) to pay for rides in conventional taxicabs, wheelchair-accessible taxicabs, vans, and other selected vehicles by those whose incomes are not more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income AND either certified by East Bay Paratransit as disabled or 70 years of age or over.  


“We’re new in the area, recently applied for Medicare. How to go about locating a physician?” 

Welcome! Medicare’s website provides access to a Healthcare Provider Directory, which will identify physicians who accept Medicare-approved amount as payment in full on all claims. General practitioners as well as specialists, e.g. geriatric medicine, are identified. Locating a physician with room in his/her practice is another matter! And be sure to sign up for your own secure MY MEDICARE [Planet March 25, 2010]. 


“Is a prescription required for Viagra?” 

Yes. Viagra (also called sildenafil citrate) is a prescription med. And it is not covered by Medicare Part D. Perhaps you have an HMO that does partially. There are other products advertised, mostly late-at-night in dubious TV presentations; they may imply but not refer to erectile dysfunction. Re Internet info: Dot coms are often advertisements. Look for dot.eds, dot.govs, and dot.orgs. Some Canadian sources seek customers without prescription. I am reluctant to impose “Discuss with your physician” as a response to this very relevant question—many senior citizens do not have a physician of their very own! 




“Is there a senior culture?” I asked [September 7, 2010 “Senior Power” column]. Barbara Morris responded: “Yes, there is a senior culture and it’s a culture of decline that is out of step with reality. The lifespan has increased by 30 years in the past century, yet healthy individuals continue to retire at age 65, become part of the traditional retired culture and before they know it, their goose is cooked. The human mind and body were not resigned to lie fallow. Healthy individuals need to plan well in advance of retirement for balanced, lifelong growth and productivity. The old cliché applies: Use it or lose it.” 

I had the pleasure one afternoon this week of hearing the Trio Brillante perform at the North Berkeley Senior Center. Fifty seniors and disabled persons enjoyed their music courtesy of Berkeley Chamber Performances ( Clarinetist Tom Rose moderated. Caroline Lee provided a unique opportunity to hear viola. Betty Woo’s piano “exuded with orchestral strength.” The San Francisco Chronicle got it right: “…the music was stylish and distinctive.”  

Flu shots clinics: The new 2010-2011 annual influenza vaccination recommendations issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) include Fluzone High-Dose vaccine among the vaccines recommended for adults 65 years of age and older. Fluzone High-Dose vaccine is also a payable benefit under Medicare Part B. Fluzone High-Dose vaccine provides an additional option for adults 65 years of age and older to help combat the burden of influenza. The American Lung Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider to learn more and determine which flu vaccination option is best for you. Although there is special concern for the elderly, remember that the CDC now recommends that everyone over six months of age get immunized against the flu. However, as people age, their immune function tends to decrease, which makes older adults not only more susceptible to infections, but also less responsive to vaccination. Although this group has the highest rates of annual immunization, they may not respond to standard-dose influenza vaccine as well as younger adults. On average, in the United States it is estimated that 90% of the 36,000 annual deaths attributed to influenza and its complications are in people 65 years of age and older. In December 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which is designed to help generate a stronger immune response in people 65 years of age and older. And a pneumonia “shot” is likewise an important consideration for senior citizens. 

Berkeley’s Public Health Division and Berkeley Unified School District have announced a free Flu shot Clinic for Berkeley Seniors (65+) and persons with disabilities, on Saturday, October 2nd. It will be held from 9 AM until 12 noon at the wheelchair accessible-Longfellow Middle School Gym at 1500 Derby Street in Berkeley. Enter through the Ward Street Gate. Consider using AC Transit bus #88 on Sacramento Street and or Ashby BART station. For further information or to request accommodations, call (510) 981-5300; 981-6903 TDD. 

Fluzone-High Dose and Pneumococcal Vaccination will not be offered at this clinic.  



Candidates running for election in November 2010: You are invited to email to Senior Power ( a statement of your “platform” regarding senior citizens. If you are running for re-election, please describe the highlights of your record on issues important to seniors. Early Voting begins on Monday, October 4, 2010.