While many people decorate their own homes for the holidays, some use professional services.

By Greg Schwem, Tribune Content Agency

Greg Schwem, Tribune Content Agency

A friend of a friend posed the question innocently enough while we stuffed our faces with tailgate food prior to the last regular season college football game:
“Do you hang your Christmas lights yourself, or do you use a service?” he asked.
“Self,” I replied, knowing full well his answer was the other option.
Each year, post-Thanksgiving, I haul out a slew of outdoor lights I meticulously packed away the previous January, meaning I tossed them haphazardly into plastic bins, figuring there wasn’t a chance they’d spend the next 11 months intertwining themselves into a hopeless collection of knots even an Eagle Scout couldn’t untangle.
Ladders are no longer part of the decorating process, especially when putting lights on trees, for my fear of being permanently disabled due to a fall far outweighs the desire to place a star on top of my 20-foot-high backyard spruce. Instead, feet firmly on the ground, I use an extendable pole, staring into a blinding sun as I hook lights on the highest branches I can reach, slowly making my way down to the tree’s trunk.
Note to newbies who are installing lights on trees without ladders: Always start with new, just-out-of-the-package lights, for at least one string will burn out the moment the job is completed, even though you tested and retested every bulb before beginning the process. You don’t want to discover the topmost string is the culprit.
My neighbors to the immediate north and east have opted for the professional Christmas light installation services, or, as I refer to them, “those (expletive) guys.” Sometimes we are decorating simultaneously; while I wrestle with the pole, I’m hearing the click-clack of extendable ladders being raised three stories in the air. Yes, my neighbors have large houses. A nimble team of men with death wishes moves up and down the rungs like Cirque du Soleil acrobats. Each man is talented enough to hold onto a portion of the ladder with one hand, freeing the other to illuminate roof lines with colorful bulbs, all precisely equidistant apart. Often, they complete the entire exterior before I’ve finished one mini-evergreen.
Extension cords are nowhere to be seen on my neighbor’s properties; meanwhile, a slew of heavy duty orange cables snakes across my lawn at all angles. If a teenage rock band pulled up and the lead guitar player said, “Dude, mind if we plug in?” I could accommodate them.
When the decorating is finished, I proudly plug in my lights, mutter a few profanities related to the strands that are malfunctioning, run to the hardware store to replace them, reconnect everything, and vow this will be the last year my house looks like a paint-by-number creation hanging in the Louvre between Rembrandts.
At the tailgate, I listened enviously as the guest with the light service regaled me with stories about contacting “the on-call rep” regarding malfunctioning lights, and being told a “technician” would be out shortly to fix the issue. I imagined what it would be like to spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend watching football on the couch, knowing that, when darkness fell, I could gaze out my window and see trees and bushes so festive, Santa would look down from his sleigh on Christmas Eve and say, “Blitzen, let’s start with THAT house.”
I thought about wandering over to my neighbor’s house and asking the “head light installer” for a business card. And then I reconsidered.
For me, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin until the extendable pole has made an appearance. Yes, the freezing temperatures affect me faster, further curtailing my desire to adorn all my foliage with lights. This year, I skipped a backyard birch tree and tossed a bunch of candy cane-shaped decorations, which lined my driveway for years, into the garbage. I often joke to my wife that, in 10 years, our Christmas decor will consist of replacing the two clear porchlights with alternate bulbs, one red and one green.
Maybe I will make that switch in September. My neighbors will be so jealous.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad” and the recently released “The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian,” available at Amazon.com. Visit Greg on the web at www.gregschwem.com.)


The holidays are officially upon us with the smell of pumpkin in the air and Christmas on our minds. This also means, that it’s a time when fraudsters work even harder to take advantage of people. According to the FBI, in 2015 consumers lost more than $19 million to solicitation scams. Whether it be “giveaway” scams or charity scams, this is the time of year to be even more vigilant in protecting yourself and your finances. Below are some helpful tips to help protect you during the holidays.
· Never “pay to play”. There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back or send you more than the exact amount – that’s a red flag that it’s a scam. If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashier’s check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or one with a local branch.
· Confirm all stories, offers or charities independently. This is the time of year where charities reach out for help with funding. Confirm everything you have been told with an independent source. Look up phone numbers, check credentials, contact family or your financial caregiver before giving to a charity that you are unfamiliar with.
· Verify all credit card charges. The holidays are a popular time when people use their credit cards to help pay for gifts. This is also a common method of payment scammers use via fraudulent charges. Review your credit card statement as soon as you receive it and verify your charges. If any fraudulent charges appear, contact your credit card company immediately.
· Monitor your account. As with your credit card statement, monitor your bank statement for any unusual activity and contact your local bank immediately if suspect that you have been a victim of fraud.
Remember, under no circumstances give out personal, credit card, bank account information over the phone or in an email. Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. As always, if any offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
For more information, visit aba.com/Seniors


OMRF's Joan Merrill, M.D., (center), Teresa Aberle (left) and Fredonna Carthen (right).

The American College of Rheumatology has selected Oklahoma Research Foundation physician-researcher Joan Merrill, M.D., as a recipient of its 2018 Master designation.
Recognition as an ACR Master is one of the highest honors members can receive and only those who have made outstanding contributions to the field of rheumatology are selected. The ACR selected 21 individuals for the designation this year.
The contributions come through scholarly achievements and service to patients, students and the profession.
Merrill was presented with the award at the college’s annual meeting on October 20 in Chicago.
“I went to my first ACR meeting during my rheumatology fellowship in 1987 and I haven’t missed a meeting since,” she said. “Now more than 30 years later, it’s an honor to receive this award after a long, long career in this field.”
A graduate of Cornell University Medical College, Merrill joined OMRF from the faculty of Columbia University in 2001 to establish a clinical trial laboratory to work on ways to successfully test drugs for lupus.
Since then, she’s built a research cohort of more than 500 lupus patient volunteers, led numerous clinical trials for investigational lupus treatments, and pioneered novel trial designs for testing innovative therapies for lupus and other autoimmune illnesses.
Lupus, a chronic, disabling disease, has proven challenging to understand, said Merrill, resulting in more than $1 billion lost in failed trials. Only one treatment has been approved for the disease in the past 60 years.
Recently Merrill has been at the forefront of improving the recruitment of minority patients to clinical trials for lupus. She has also has been spearheading a call for transformative changes in trials for new lupus drugs.
“The goal is to have more approvals of effective drugs and to prevent ineffective ones from succeeding,” said Merrill. “That would be huge, because our patients need safer and better treatments.”
The American College of Rheumatology is a nonprofit organization founded in 1958 to improve the care of patients with rheumatic disease.

by Corporal Kim Lopez, TRIAD Coordinator, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office

Are you armed with a plan? Do you have to tools to carry out that plan? Senior adults are target for many reasons. One line of thinking is “the older we get, the fatter the wallet”. Do you know a senior who carries way too much cash? Most seniors are not schooled on how career criminals target their victims. The Oklahoma County TRIAD covers each community with a one hour monthly meeting called SALT, namely Seniors And Law enforcement Together. We discuss crime prevention issues and face crime concerns head on. Many seniors think they will just scream, truth is, in a real 9-1-1 emergency, YOU CAN’T SCREAM.
Gone are the days of “Walk with confidence, and be aware of your surroundings” Todays seniors need a plan and the tools to carry out that plan. Seniors need to know the areas career criminals tell me they target potential victims. Seniors need to understand why, AND WHICH parking lots are more dangerous than others.
Gone are the days of, cross body purses, carrying cash, and talking on your phone while walking through parking lots.
Speaking specifically of personal attack, violent crime occurs every 22.8 seconds. ALL parking lots are dangerous, the parking lot you feel the most comfortable in is even more dangerous. When the home invasion is interrupted, when the drug deal goes bad, when the fight is on and police have been dispatched, CAREER CRIMINALS HEAD TO A PARKING LOT to get away from the police.
Which parking lots are dangerous? ALL PARKING LOTS ARE DANGERIOUS! Some more than others.
1.) The parking lot you feel comfortable in.
2.) 24 hour parking lots
3.) Hospital parking lots
Career Criminals want your car to get out of the area. If they commit a crime in a small town, they seek the big city, if they commit a crime in a big city, they seek a small town to get lost. They understand that crossing many jurisdictions in a wide variety of different vehicles makes it impossible for police to catch them. Driving only 20 minutes in any direction crosses many different jurisdictions. They change vehicles often and go from large bright color truck to small light color compact car to midsize SUV of some other color. Just walking to a white small car could make you a target. In TRIAD we tach senior adults to be prepared with a plan and tool them to carry out that plan. Simply carrying an extra set of old bait keys could save your life. For the most part, there are two demands: GIVE ME YOUR KEYS, GIVE ME YOUR GOODS! TRIAD seniors know to attach an extra set of keys to their good keys to show and throw, baiting the attacker away from them. Same goes for being ready when asked for GOODS, WALLET, or your WATCH OR PACKAGES. TRIAD Seniors know to be ready with two one dollar bills in a metal office binder or money clip, show it and throw it, is our motto!
When shopping, always get a shopping cart and never ever get your method of payment out at the register stall, get in the habit of going by the feminine products or underwear to get out your method of payment. Check yourself for any items you might get targeted for, turn jeweled rings around to look like a band, cover up watches with your sleeve, and never ever push your shopping cart into a register stall! You PULL YOUR SHOPPING CART TO ADD A 4 FOOT DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND THE PERSON BEHIND YOU. Many criminals mute their cell phone in order to get close enough to you to take rapid fire pictures of your method of payment. Cash sets you up for attack, writing checks lends account information as well a home address and name. Credit cards or debit cards ran as credit offer the best recourse. When entering a 4 digit pin number be careful not to WARM THE KEYS WITH YOUR FINGER. Use your car key or ink pen to depress the numbers. Using your warm finger leaves a heat signature to be detected by a heat sensitive camera up to two minutes after you walk away. If you must touch and warm the keys, simply use your first three fingers to warm all the keys before you walk away.
Way too many seniors are still carrying their check books, just the sound of ripping that check out of the checkbook acts as a beacon to call career criminals. TRAD seniors tear out 3 checks and keep them with their folding money! They also take their ID, credit card as well as cash and checks out of their purse and carry them on their person in a lanyard wallet. TRIAD men carry their wallet in their undershirt pocket.
Attach a whistle to your good keychain and carry your good car keys around your wrist with your bait keys in the other hand. Always have your cell phone ready to dial 9-1-1.
Practice range of motion in your neck and always watch for anyone approaching you!
Get a GEL pen if you insist on writing checks, this keeps criminals from WASHING your check and re-writing it for the amount you have in your account.
Change your direct deposit to deposit into your savings account and transfer to checking as you need it.
I stand ready to be of assistance,
Corporal Kim Lopez, TRIAD Coordinator, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office – 713-1920.
Come be a part of TRIAD by visiting a SALT Council meeting near you. Call 713-1950 and leave your name and address to get on our mailing list to receive a monthly reminder of the Seniors And Law enforcement Together meeting near your home.

To better meet the changing health care needs of the El Reno community, Mercy plans to build a new facility focusing on expanding physician services, including both primary care and medical specialties, as well as urgent care. This new health care model represents a new direction in Mercy’s approach to health care in El Reno.
Mercy has had the privilege of serving the health care needs of the people of Canadian County since 2009 when Mercy entered into an agreement with the city of El Reno to manage the hospital. In 2010, Mercy began a lease agreement to operate the city-owned hospital.
After an extensive discernment period that focused on analyzing community needs and hospital use patterns, Mercy leaders have decided to end the hospital lease with the city of El Reno and shift focus to expanding needed outpatient services. Mercy will work with city leaders over the next six months to create a smooth transition plan.
“We are excited to build a new outpatient facility that offers the type of care that residents most want and need in El Reno, including both primary and specialty care,” said Jim Gebhart, president of Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City and regional strategy officer for Mercy.
The new facility will feature the following providers and services: Family medicine, Internal medicine, Imaging services, Lab services, Walk-in urgent care, Urology, Cardiology, Orthopedics, Pain management, Home health, Wound care, Physical therapy, EMS services and Virtual medicine.
It will also feature a helipad so patients can be quickly transferred to a higher level of care when needed.
Mercy Hospital El Reno was built by the city in 1954 and needs extensive renovation. Over the last year and a half, Mercy and city leaders have worked together to pursue plans to build a new hospital, but patient census at Mercy Hospital El Reno has declined significantly as patients choose to travel to larger communities for hospital care. In addition, construction costs have increased 50 percent, making the plans no longer economically feasible. The hospital saw an average of 12 patients per day in 2009 when Mercy entered into the agreement to manage the hospital. Today, Mercy Hospital El Reno sees an average of 12 patients per month in the inpatient hospital setting. At the same time, every year approximately 600 patients choose to drive from El Reno to Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City for hospital care. As a result of these utilization trends, Mercy Hospital El Reno lost $2.9 million dollars last year on inpatient care and experienced a loss of more than $700,000 in the first quarter of this fiscal year.
“While inpatient care in a rural setting is economically challenging, we remain deeply committed to the El Reno community,” Gebhart said. “We believe this new strategy for outpatient care offers the appropriate level of services closer to home and will allow us to be good stewards of our resources, assuring our ability to continue to serve the community for many years to come.”
Approximately 100 Mercy employees work at Mercy Hospital El Reno but not all will be affected by this change. Nearly half of these employees provide services that will remain in the community such as home health, physical therapy, wound care and EMS. Mercy’s human resources team will work with the remaining affected co-workers individually to offer resources and explore the possibility of transferring to open positions in nearby Mercy facilities or in the new facility.

SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital – Oklahoma City was awarded an ‘A’ from The Leapfrog Group’s Fall 2018 Hospital Safety Grade. The designation recognizes SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital, including SSM Health Bone & Joint Hospital at St. Anthony, for their efforts in protecting patients from harm and meeting the highest safety standards in the United States.
The Leapfrog Group is a national organization committed to improving health care quality and safety for consumers and purchasers. The Safety Grade assigns an A, B, C, D or F grade to hospitals across the country based on their performance in preventing medical errors, infections and other harms among patients in their care.
“At SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital and SSM Health Bone & Joint Hospital at St. Anthony, we take great pride in providing exceptional patient care. Safety is our number one priority for each patient that walks through our doors. Our employees go above and beyond every day, committed to the best safety practices, ensuring our patients receive the best care possible,” said Tammy Powell, President, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital.
“Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Grades recognize hospitals like SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital that focus on advancing patient safety. This ranking provides an important resource for patients, and a benchmark for hospitals, to determine how care at one hospital compares to others in a region,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “Hospitals that earn an A Hospital Safety Grade deserve to be recognized for their efforts in preventing medical harm and errors.”
Developed under the guidance of a National Expert Panel, the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade uses 28 measures of publicly available hospital safety data to assign grades to more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals twice per year. The Hospital Safety Grade’s methodology is peer-reviewed and fully transparent, and the results are free to the public.
SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital was one of 855 across the United States awarded an A in the Fall 2018 update of grades. To see full grade details of SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital, and to access patient tips for staying safe in the hospital, visit www.hospitalsafetygrade.org and follow The Leapfrog Group on Twitter and Facebook.


Founded in 2000 by large employers and other purchasers, The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization driving a movement for giant leaps forward in the quality and safety of American health care. The flagship Leapfrog Hospital Survey collects and transparently reports hospital performance, empowering purchasers to find the highest-value care and giving consumers the lifesaving information they need to make informed decisions. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, Leapfrog’s other main initiative, assigns letter grades to hospitals based on their record of patient safety, helping consumers protect themselves and their families from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections.

By Jose M Olivero, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Oklahoma

In the digital age, frauds and scams are an unfortunate part of doing business online. During the holiday season, Social Security has traditionally seen a spike in phishing scams, and we want to protect you as best we can. Always be cautious and to avoid providing sensitive information such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or bank account information to unknown individuals over the phone or internet. If you receive a call and aren’t expecting one, you must be extra careful. You can always get the caller’s information, hang up, and — if you do need more clarification — contact the official phone number of the business or agency that the caller claims to represent. Never reveal personal data to a stranger who called you. Please take note; there’s a scam going around right now. You might receive a call from someone claiming to be from Social Security or another agency. Calls can even display the 1-800-772-1213, Social Security’s national customer service number, as the incoming number on your caller ID. In some cases, the caller states that Social Security does not have all of your personal information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), on file. Other callers claim Social Security needs additional information. if they do not confirm your information. Reports have come from people across the country. These calls are not from Social Security.
Callers sometimes state that your Social Security number is at risk. The caller then asks you to provide a phone number to resolve the issue. You should avoid engaging with the caller or calling the number provided, as the caller might attempt to acquire personal information.
In only a few special situations, such as when you have business pending with us, a Social Security employee may request the person confirm personal information over the phone.
Social Security employees will never threaten you or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent, and you should just hang up. If you receive these calls, please report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or online at oig.ssa.gov/report.

Remember, only call official phone numbers and use secured websites of the agencies and businesses you know are correct. Protecting your information is an important part of Social Security’s mission to secure today and tomorrow.

Dear Savvy Senior,

What are the cheapest cell phone plans available to seniors today? I’m 78-years-old and want it primarily for emergency purposes. Infrequent Caller

Dear Infrequent,
While unlimited high-speed data, video streaming and mobile hot spot are now standard for most cell phone plans today, there are still a number of low-cost wireless plans designed with seniors in mind.
These plans offer limited talk time and text, which is ideal for seniors who want to stay connected without spending much money each month. Here are some super cheap plans to consider.
Cheapest Plans
Prepaid plans are the best deal for seniors who only want a cell phone for emergency purposes or occasional calls. The very cheapest prepaid plan available today is T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go plan, which includes any combination of 30 minutes or 30 text messages for only $3 per month. After that, additional minutes and texts cost 10 cents each.
Phone prices start at $75, but if you have a compatible device, you can use it rather than buying a new one. You will, however, need to pay for a $10 SIM Starter Kit fee, whether you bring your own phone or buy a new one. Visit T-Mobile.com or call 844-361-2792 for more information.
Two other companies that offer low-cost prepaid deals are TracFone and AT&T.
TracFone (TracFone.com, 800-867-7183) has a 30 minute talk/text plan for $10 per month, or an even cheaper a 60 minute talk/text plan for $20 for three months, which averages out to only $6.66 per month.
And AT&T (ATT.com, 800-331-0500) has two low-cost prepaid plans including the 25 cent per minute call plan, and a $2 daily plan that charges only when you place or receive a call or send a text that day. The fees are deducted from the prepaid balance on your account. But to use AT&T Prepaid, you must prepay into your account either $10 per month, $25 for three months or $100 per year.
Best Emergency Phone
If you’re interested in a senior-friendly cell phone that provides top-notched emergency assistance, consider the Jitterbug Flip (GreatCall.com, 800-918-8543).
This is a nifty flip phone that has big buttons, enhanced sound, a simplified menu, and a 5Star urgent response button that connects you to a trained agent that will know your locations, and will be able to assist you whether you need emergency services, directions, roadside assistance or a locksmith, or to contact family. GreatCall’s service runs on Verizon’s network.
The Flip phone costs $100, with monthly service plans that start at $15 for 200 minutes. Or, you can get the 5Star service with 50 minutes of monthly talk time for $25.
Free Phones
If your income is low enough, another option you should check into is the federal Lifeline program, which provides free or low-cost cell phones and plans through numerous wireless providers.
To qualify, your annual household income must at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – which is $16,389 for one person, or $22,221 for two. Or, you must be receiving Medicaid, food stamps/SNAP, SSI, public housing assistance, veterans pension or survivor’s pension benefit, or live on federally recognized Tribal lands.
To find out if you’re eligible, or to locate wireless companies in your area that participates in the program, visit LifelineSupport.org or call 800-234-9473.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Date/ Day/ Location/ Time/ Registration #/ Instructor
Nov 13/ Tuesday/ Okla. City/ 9 am – 3;30 pm/ 691-4091/ Palinsky Rose State – 6191 Tinker Diagonal – room 203
Nov 14/ Wednesday/ Warr Acres/ 8:30 am – 3 pm/ 789-9892/ Kruck Warr Acres Community Center – 4301 N. Ann Arbor Ave.
Nov 15/ Thursday/ Norman/ 9 am – 3:30 pm/ 307-3177/ Palinsky Norman Regional Hospital – 901 N. Porter Ave.
Nov 17/ Saturday/ Shawnee/ 9 am – 3:30 pm/ 818-2916/ Brase Gordon Cooper Tech Center – One John C. Burton Blvd.
Dec 6/ Thursday/ Okla. City/ 9 am – 3:30 pm/ 951-2277/ Varacchi Integris 3rd Age Life Center – 5100 N. Brookline, Suite 100
Dec 8/ Saturday/ Midwest City/ 9 am – 3 pm/ 473-9239/ Williams First Christian Church – 11950 E. Reno Ave. (Activity Room
Dec 11/ Tuesday/ Okla. City/ 8;30 am – 3 pm/ 521-3756/ Palinsky Office of Disability Concerns – 1111 N. Lee Ave, Suite 500
Dec 14/ Friday/ Okla. City/ 9 am – 3 pm/ 951-2277/ Edwards S.W. Medical center – 4200 S. Douglas , Suite B-10
Dec 14/ Friday/ Okla. City/ 9 am – 3:30 pm/ 951-2277/ Edwards S.W. Medical Center – 4200 S. Douglas, Suite B-10

The prices for the classes are: $15 for AARP members and $20 for Non-AARP. Call John Palinsky, zone coordinator for the Oklahoma City area at 405-691-4091 or send mail to: johnpalinsky@sbcglobal.net