Carolyn Barnes: Planting seeds of change

Credit: Gerlach Graphic

“My name is Carolyn Barnes and I live in senior housing in Northwest Washington. This is the first time I have ever testified before the D.C. City Council, so I ask your patience if I seem a little nervous.”

With these words, Carolyn Barnes began her February 2016 testimony before the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services. A resident of Regency House, Mrs. Barnes was there to talk about a Medicaid program that provides free home health aides to qualified seniors and people with disabilities. Called the EPD Waiver program, its purpose is to help individuals stay in their homes rather than go into nursing homes. In 2006, doctors put five screws in Mrs. Barnes’ back to address a spine condition. She’s been in debilitating pain ever since.

For most of the past decade, she has had a home health aide who helped with grocery shopping, picked up prescriptions, and accompanied her to doctor’s appointments, among other activities. The aides were paid by a long-term care insurance policy she purchased. Two years ago, her Iona case manager, Randy Smith, noticed that Mrs. Barnes’ insurance money was running out and told her that the EPD Waiver program would provide her with a free aide. That aide started last February – around the time her insurance money was about to run out and she would have been on her own.

“The EPD Waiver program has worked well for me,” Mrs. Barnes, who is 69, told the City Council. “I’ve been very happy with my aide. But because of a bureaucratic scare, I nearly lost her.”

Enter Randy Smith. A journalist-turned social worker who has been working as an Iona case manager for six years, “Randy really knows how to navigate DC government programs,” says Iona’s Executive Director Sally White.

A former newspaper reporter, Randy doesn’t take no for an answer. “I greatly appreciate being able to use my previous experience dealing with all branches of government to get results for individuals,” he says.

With Randy’s help, Mrs. Barnes – and countless other Iona clients – have benefited from government services for which they qualify. Many didn’t know those opportunities even existed. “Mrs. Barnes was down to her last dollar,” says Sally. “I hate to think about the outcome if she didn’t have Randy in her corner.”

While Randy frequently testifies before the City Council, it is Mrs. Barnes, he says, who was the best one to share her story. “I wasn’t there to help myself,” she says. “I testified in hopes that it will help other senior citizens who need help in order to stay in their homes.”

As for her initial anxiety about speaking in public, Mrs. Barnes said it made all the difference to have Randy by her side. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop,” says the newly empowered advocate. “I just had to speak my mind.”

“I wish everyone had a Randy Smith in her life,” she adds. “Once you have all your ducks in a row, and all your questions answered, it’s smooth sailing.”

By Janice Kaplan