Elton Reese’s life sounds like a country-western song.
“I was almost gone -- but she pulled me back,” he said happily in his new apartment in Crockett.
Elton, a 57-year-old former drug addict, on parole after three felony convictions, had been living in one room of a ramshackle house on a dirt road in Deep East Texas.
“I didn’t care if tomorrow came or not,” he said. “I was sad, I couldn’t get nothing to go for me, I couldn’t get medical help, nothing went right.”
Then he met Jesi Mckenzie, a UnitedHealthcare Community Plan outreach and marketing specialist. “That lady turned my life around!” he said.
Elton had been a truck driver working oilfields and the Port of Houston. He later became a diesel mechanic.
“I always made good money; I raised a family …” he said. But his two children died and he began drinking and taking drugs.
He previously had lost much of his right leg at the age of 25 while street racing a motorcycle. He ran a red light in Houston at more than 100 miles an hour and got broadsided by a car. His left ankle was crushed by a load of pipe in a later accident.
“I didn’t have a good leg to stand on,” he said, relishing the irony. He admits to getting in with a bad crowd, abusing drugs and going to prison. After his most recent parole, he wound up in a rented room with black mold in the wall.
“I was hungry; I was just about on the street,” he said. “I was in a shell and I was not doing good.”
Then he got a letter and a phone call inviting him to an informational meeting about Medicaid. “I rejected the letter, but when I got the phone call, something in my head – I guess it was God – told me, `Elton. You’ve got to go.’”
The meeting included a free meal. “I asked myself, ‘What have I got to lose? I have nothing to eat.’” He limped into the meeting with a borrowed cane.
At the meeting, Jesi presented a list of resources for Medicaid patients.
“The more I listened, the more I knew I had to talk to her,” Elton said. “I needed to know what I qualified for.”
Jesi’s answers gave him hope. “I was almost gone but she pulled me back,” he said.
Jesi introduced Elton to UHC Service Coordinator Kim Mouton, who delivered on Elton’s hope after he was upgraded to the UnitedHealthcare StarPlus Waiver health plan.
“She gets things DONE,” he said of Kim. “Medically, physically, mentally, I’ve totally changed direction. Look at me – I’m glowing.”
Kim set up Meals on Wheels deliveries for Elton, made sure he got the medications he needed, helped him get new eyeglasses and mobility aids, and arranged for a home health aide to care, cook and clean. Kim also coordinated his move into a new apartment.
“When I got here, I had nothing.” he said, conducting a tour of the apartment.
Elton’s brother and sister-in-law provided furniture. Other items he bought at resale shops or yard sales. He collects figures of ducks and is proud of a wall clock he fixed.
“I never thought my life would pick this far up for me,” he said, shaking his head in amazement.
Now, thanks to UnitedHealthcare’s Community Plan, he has a new girlfriend and the prospect of both health and happiness, he said.
“It’s a blessing,” he said.
But one thing about Elton’s new life scares him. He’s getting the medication he needs. But he remembers how drugs helped ruin his past life.
“I was a druggie. I’ve done heroin, I’ve done cocaine, I’ve done crack, I’ve done speed, meth, oxycontin,” he said. “The one thing I never abused is pills. So I have a problem with taking pills now. I don’t want to take them because I’ve had a drug problem I don’t want to take something that I have to depend on.”
Elton said he takes his high blood pressure medication but feels guilty when he takes pain pills for his lower back and both of his legs.
“They hurt all the time. All the time,” he said. “So I have to take a pain pill. But I have a problem taking that pain pill because I don’t want to get dependent on it. But yet I don’t want to hurt all the time either.”
His problem has given Elton a personal perspective on how to cope with drug addiction:
“You can’t tell a drug head not to do it. And you can’t make a drug head stop.” That person has to make that decision himself. All these drug programs they can’t make you quit. The courts can’t make you quit just because they sent you there [prison]. You’ve got to be tired of it to quit yourself. You’ve got to want to quit. And that’s the way I did it. I didn’t have any of those drug programs. I just needed to be sick of that life. And I’m sick of it. I’m through with it – through with it!
Elton added that he is also regretting the drug abuse because of the overall impact on his health. But, at the present time, he said he’s doing great.
“I love everything around me because I’m doing so good. All because that lady [Jesi] started that ball rolling.”
Elton was afraid he would not qualify for housing assistance because of his three felony convictions.
“I have a spotted background,” he said. “I’ve been in the pen three times.
“Back when I was just a teenager, a guy loaned me his car. But he didn’t tell me to bring it back. So a couple of days later he called the law. So unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.”
The second conviction, for robbery, was reduced from armed robbery when authorities found out Elton had not committed the holdup.
“I seen him [the gunman] running down the road,” Elton said. “I picked him up and said, ‘Hey, man, what’s goin’ on?’ ‘Oh, nothing, let’s go to the dope house.’ ‘Sure, you got money? All right lets go.’”
“Before we got about a block and a half down the road and stopped at a red light and all of a sudden the police just – bam – ‘What the hell’s going on?’ Well somebody saw him getting into my pickup truck.”
The third conviction was for burglary of a habitation. Elton was sentenced to 20 years and paroled after serving six and a half.
“I did do that. I got out on parole and that’s what I’m dealing with now,” he said.
“I can’t lie to nobody because it’s there. I don’t lie anyway,” he said. “I tried that lying thing. You tell one lie, you’ve got to tell another one to back that one up. Sooner or later you’re going to forget that first lie. And now you’re a liar. So I don’t lie, even if it hurts.”
One truth that Elton is pleased to repeat is the impact that meeting and the Community Plan have made on his life.
“Keep doing what [you’re] doing to help people like me,” he said