Mirta Wallace, 57, never thought she would be giving up her six figure job in Texas to move back to Winter Park to take on the responsibilities of caring and watching over her 81-year-old mother 24 hours a day.
"I was in the height of my career," Wallace said. "I did not know the journey I was walking into."
Although Wallace had been done with motherhood for quite some time, she quickly found herself becoming reacquainted with it after her own mother had a bad fall in 2007, and her mother's Alzheimer's disease began to worsen. She then decided she would take on the responsibility of caring for her mother at home by herself.
But it did not take long before Wallace felt alone and overwhelmed. That's when a friend recommended Share the Care, a program that provides services and support to family caregivers, allowing them to care for their family members at home, while also providing adult day care facilities for families in need of respite care.
"These day cares are wonderful; they gave me a life within a life so I didn't feel totally swallowed up by the disease," she said. "They are my angels."
Although Share the Care has been a blessing for many Central Floridians, another recent threat to cut their budget by the state got many caregivers such as Wallace concerned that the program could be in danger of losing too much. So Wallace and many other caregivers rallied together to make their voices heard to lawmakers in Tallahassee.
They took their stories all the way to the floor of the Florida House Capitol on Feb. 3, which was hosted by State Legislators Mark Pafford (D-Palm Beach County) and Kurt Kelly (R-Marion County).
"Government governs best when people are involved in it, and the more citizens that come into Tallahassee and engage this, the better government is," Kelly said. "It's one of those things (the event) to have and put a real state on problem, especially when you start looking at the budget cuts this year."
Kelly said the point of the event was to bring a focused attention to the issue, and demonstrate how in-home-care can be cost effective versus the major cost it would put on the state through government programs to put seniors in nursing homes.
"Even if someone used our adult day centers full time for a whole year Monday through Friday the total cost would be $14,000, and the cost of a nursing home now is anywhere between $65,000 and $75,000 a year," Share the Care Executive Director Mary-Ellen Grant said.
Although Share the Care can be cost effective, the Florida Legislature has repeatedly cut funding for the program. In the last year, the Alzheimer's Disease Initiative (ADI) was cut 14 percent.
By traveling to Tallahassee, many caregivers are hoping lawmakers will see the real faces behind Alzheimer's disease, and realize what an important issue it is.
"We are babies twice in our lives, when you are born and when you are getting ready to leave this world," Wallace said. "It's facing all of us, and the cost of good nursing facilities and homes is truly incredible in this country."
Share the Care
For more information on Share the Care visit www.helpforcaregivers.org or contact Executive Director Mary-Ellen Grant at 407-423-5311.