By MIKE McCLEARY, The Bismarck Tribune
MANDAN, ND – Doug Dworshak can not bring himself to discuss the life he had lived before his heart attack last year, before his wife, Carol, began to drown in debt before that they were not forced to leave their jobs.
Before the stress, anxiety, frustration and disbelief culminated with the loss of their home in August.
"I do not want to talk about it," he says as tears come to his eyes after an unsuccessful attempt to calm his emotions.
"I thought we'd be happy now," adds Carol.
Doug, 61, was diagnosed with heart disease last year and was forced to leave his long-time job as a meat cutter at Butcher Block. A few months later, Carol, 60, was injured in the back in a car accident and could no longer work at Panera Bread. Medical debt related to ambulance calls, emergency visits and hospital stays amounted to $ 300,000, seemingly insurmountable. There was no more money to pay bills, buy necessities and maintain the mortgage, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The Dworshaks are not alone – statistics show that countless people across the country are also facing paralyzing medical debt. But the Mandan couple had imagined that the years before retirement would be less stressful and happier.
"Whoever said you were 60, I would like to stall this guy," Doug said.
Over the past year, the weight of their financial crisis and his serious chronic health problems have led Doug to the hospital several times. The debt and lack of identity of a job have led the proud man to embark on the path of depression and despair towards suicide ideas.
"I have been working since the age of 15," he says. "You do not know how much I hate not working, I can not support my family, it's really bad."
From the couch in his living room, Doug looks at the television screen on a December afternoon.
"I feel whipped, I almost curse my life," he says. "I can not do anything about it, I've never been so poor before."
Carol, who is still recovering from a back injury, stays close to Doug in case he faints or has an attack of anxiety or signs of stroke.
She found a part time job last winter as a school bus assistant in Mandan. He was paying $ 13 an hour, but only about four hours a day.
After eagerly waiting about six months for document processing, Doug receives $ 1,260 a month in Social Security disability payments. Carol still looking for a new part-time job, the couple lives nearly $ 800 less than the poverty rate of a family of two. They receive $ 300 per month as part of the complementary nutritional assistance program for the grocery store and go to the local food boards.
Before their fate, the Dworshaks, married since 1988, were considered middle-class. They were happy and relaxed.
"We have never fought like we do now," said Doug. "Everything is on the edge."
He is angry, frustrated and disillusioned.
"I do not know if we can ever get our life back," he says
Carol tries to keep a bit of cautious optimism as undesirable circumstances continue to appear as gopher colonies in the North Dakota meadow.
"We have always lived paychecks, but we have always succeeded," she says. "We have never lived beyond our means, we will get there, I do not know how, but we will do it."
The Dworshaks are not alone. Across the country, citizens face the same dilemma: overwhelming medical debt.
According to a 2016 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times, more than a quarter of Americans have difficulty paying for medical expenses. Many are faced with the dilemma of paying bills for drugs and prescription drugs, food, rent, transportation and utilities?
The Commonwealth Fund, a private non-profit foundation supporting independent research on health policy reform, conducted a survey in 2018 in which more than half of respondents – more than 21 million people – "suffered one or several dire financial consequences related to medical care, "despite health insurance.
In the same survey, one-third of those surveyed reported using most of their savings and nearly a quarter said they were unable to meet their basic needs. A collection agency contacted nearly a third of unpaid bills.
"It's the worst," said Alicia Kellebrew, a counselor at the Fargo Village Family Service Center. "People can not control" health problems.
This organization provides behavioral health services in 15 communities in North Dakota and Minnesota. Kellebrew advises clients on banking and financial matters. Most hospitals and clinics have internal stress programs that patients can take out to reduce or eliminate their medical debts, and patients can also organize to benefit from an interest-free monthly payment program.
"You have to catch it before it's sent to the collections," Kellebrew said.
Many people with medical debts have problems using up their credit cards or borrowing against 401 (k) retirement accounts, she said. This creates a snowball effect when there are "unforeseen expenses" such as car or home repairs or medical emergencies.
Bankruptcy is an option, but Kellebrew warns against filing too soon – if a medical condition is going on, new bills that accumulate will not fall into the final bankruptcy contract.
Kellebrew said people must stop digging a financial hole and start asking questions. She works with clients to create an operational budget to meet monthly needs.
"Take care of yourself first," she says. "You are more important than debt."
It is June and the closure of the Dworshaks' home is inevitable. They are busy in their garage, storing their camping gear and belongings in an old leisure vehicle.
Their German Shepherd, Chase, is not quite a year old and still behaves like an overgrown puppy, wandering in the backyard, though the dog still seems to be close to Doug's side. Having Chase around the house allowed Doug to distract himself from the couple's troubles. Even if Chase is just going to get chew toys or jump on the couch to give Doug a lick, it's not about Doug thinking about their desperate situation.
That's why the decision to send Chase to live with their daughter, miles away, was shocking for Doug. It was a fear that he probably knew to become reality.
"It's one of the saddest things," says Doug fighting tears. "I have to give my boyfriend."
Other decisions must also be made – what to keep, what to throw away, what to give and what to leave if the time runs out before the deadline input.
"Hey, Carol," Doug cries from inside the garage. "What do you say we take everything to the dump and take the road?"
Later, Doug passes Carol in the garage and gently strokes his shoulder.
"It would kill her if I threw it all," he whispers.
We are July 15th and the North Dakota Housing Funding Agency, which aims to make housing affordable for state residents, should interpose in the Dworshaks' home. for seven years.
Carol frantically calls last-minute calls to the public agency and the office of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development of Fargo, surrounded at her kitchen table with letters, other papers and flying papers, scribbles and calculations.
Doug, angry and disappointed by the tedious bureaucratic process, collapsed on the couch smoking a cigarette and staring at the floor.
For months, Dworshaks mortgage was set offline. But it's time to make a payment or deal with a foreclosure.
"Carol, it's time to wake up," Doug shouts. "The government will do nothing for us, let's take a few things and leave the rest, I do not even want home anymore."
"Yes," Carol replied in a low voice.
A short moment goes by and the mobile phone rings. This is a representative of HUD. Carol retires to the back of the house to take the call. Shortly after, she goes out.
"Well, we're screwed," she says. "I did what I could, it's over."
As the shock fades, Carol's eyes fill with tears when she sits next to Doug on the couch.
"I never thought that life would end like that," says Doug. "That's what I get to be sick."
Before the "sheriff's sale" is required to auction a foreclosed property, many attempts are made to reconcile the mortgage debt with the owner, a process that takes months.
"We want people to stay at home," said Dave Flohr, director of the home ownership division of the Dakota Housing Finance Agency. "No one is making money on foreclosure."
He cited court fees, maintenance, utilities and taxes as examples of expenses incurred by the agency after a seizure.
Once the owner is one month late on a mortgage payment, the state agency is required to send notifications and make calls up to three months late. Arrangement options may result in deferred payments or temporary reduced payments.
Flohr said the most important thing for people who are late paying their mortgage is to contact their loan provider.
"Do not ignore phone calls and letters," he said. "If we do not know what has happened, we can not help you."
The agency also offers grant programs such as the Rehabilitation Access Program and a rental assistance program. She also contributes to local non-profit organizations such as Community Action and Helping Hands.
It is August 19th, just days after Doug spent another week at a local hospital. Earlier in the day, the couple attended a court hearing to finalize the seizure of their home. Now four Mandan policemen are at the door and the Dworshaks must leave their homes immediately.
They thought they had another day. Confused and overworked, they are forced to leave behind several major appliances, furniture, dry goods and a freezer filled with food. They spend the night in their caravan parked in the street.
"I feel overwhelmed, sometimes I feel hollow," Carol said five weeks later. "Where are we going to go, I do not know."
The Dworshaks are now homeless and live in their cold, overstuffed caravans with a pierced roof, parked on the property of Carol's sister near Lincoln.
"It was OK for about a week," says Doug. "Now we are in a bad mood and we are fighting all the time, everything is so tight."
Carol would like to have more privacy and space to move without colliding with Doug.
"I'm trying to look on the bright side, and I can not find one," she says, tears in her eyes. "We try to continue and we can not."
Over the days and weeks, the Dworshaks are hoping to find housing to rent with the help of programs offered by Community Options and the Burleigh County Housing Authority. The couple also goes to catering offices such as Ministry on the Margins.
As a last resort, the daughter and son-in-law of the Dworshaks own property near Litchville, southwest of Valley City. The house, although decrepit, is better than their current living conditions – but it is far from job opportunities and medical care. Doug and Carol Dworshak are now living with their families near Litchville and a GoFundMe account has been opened on behalf of the couple.
While he wondered what their future might be, Doug can not help but look to the past as well.
"Life was good before I got sick," he says.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com
An AP member exchange feature shared by The Bismarck Tribune
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, disseminated, rewritten or redistributed.
. (tagsToTranslate) Associated Press (t) North Dakota (t) North Dakota News