WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — A 77-year-old Whatcom County man killed his wife and then himself last week after telling a 911 dispatcher he was doing so because they could no longer pay for medical care. The incident made national headlines, and it's an all too familiar story for seniors across the country.
Pat Patzer lost her husband last year to lung cancer and since then her financial situation has been a struggle.
"The bills stayed the same but the household income went down by a third," she said. "It was really, really tight. I had to borrow from the kids."
Americans are living longer than ever, but for many that means stretching limited dollars even further.
The National Council on Aging reports more than 25 million Americans over the age of 60 live at or below the poverty line. Suicide rates for men spike after age 65.
"One big medical emergency and all I've saved is gone," said Patzer.
The Whatcom County incident has alarmed senior assistance groups.
Ryan Blackwell with the Northwest Regional Council hears stories of desperation almost every day.
He pointed to a recent success story of a man who came to his office in tears when his wife needed major surgery and he had to sell his house.
"Our staff member helped him find affordable housing and connected him with family caregiver support where he received caregiver counseling," said Blackwell. "That has helped him to stabilize his situation. There is help available."
There are plenty of resources out there for struggling seniors. There were 55 or so of them on display Wednesday at the annual Whatcom Senior Day. Hundreds of people received information about everything from free meal services to affordable housing options.
"There's no shame in asking for help," said Patzer.
If someone didn't steer her toward a section 8 housing voucher, she said she might have ended up living in her car.
"There are resources from many, many places," she said. "You just have to ask for it."
The Northwest Regional Council offers these options for seniors looking for help:
Statewide number to connect to local resources: 1-855-567-0252
National Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255