When Mollie Fragnito began nursing school at St. Catherine University in her thirties, she thought she would be the oldest person in her class.
She was wrong.
“I sat next to a lady who was 65,” says Mollie. “She had just retired and was going to become a nurse so she could take care of the older people in her neighborhood.” Mollie recalls sharing this with her mother and grandmother, and all three women agreeing it was awesome.
Twelve years after earning her RN degree, Mollie works as a Clinical Coordinator at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. “I have the best job – I get to help people move through the hospital until they are released,” Mollie says.
A heartbreaking aspect of Mollie’s job is knowing some elderly people do not have a place to go when they leave the hospital. “Because they have Parkinson’s, or they lost their job, or they have an adult child with a disability or a drug problem, they can’t afford to go to a nursing home.”
Mollie says many of these patients are in their 70s, 80s or 90s. “Trying to think about being homeless in my 40s is hard enough – the thought of trying to keep medication safe and figure out where next meal is coming from at their age is mind-numbing,” says Mollie. “I imagine my parents or aunts and uncles in that situation. When you look at your patients, that’s what you see.”
It’s important to remember that we could find ourselves in a similar situation one day, says Mollie. “We’re all just one catastrophe away from being that homeless person.”
As an advocate who often speaks with legislators, Mollie recognizes that talking about what needs to change is the first step. “The biggest thing I’d love to see is keeping people in their homes,” Mollie says. “Everybody does so much better when they’re at the homes where they’ve raised their families.”
Mollie also recommends that cities improve accessibility for older adults. “Right now, we have so many potholes that getting a wheelchair across the road would be challenging, and in the winter, the snowbanks and ice make it hard to get around. Maybe cities could get creative and make it more accessible around the grocery stores, or in a snowstorm, have a way to deliver groceries or medical supplies.”
Affordable housing is another way we can keep seniors healthy for longer, Mollie points out. “There’s so much that depends on safe housing, like your health. I don’t see our resources keeping pace with that.”
In her family, Mollie has seen positive experiences with aging. One of her grandmothers lived at home until she passed away suddenly in her 90s. “She didn’t have a long, drawn-out, painful experience, and my mom and two aunts were helping with her care and that was a really powerful experience for our family.” Mollie’s other grandmother decided to move into a local nursing home. “She found a spot that was perfect – she was there seven or eight years and the caregivers were amazing.”
Mollie would like to make it to her 90s and be out in the garden with her kids and future grandkids. “I think that’s everybody’s goal.” Mollie adds that she has a health care directive. “The most important thing for me is knowing I have people who can say what I want if I can’t.”