National Nurses United

National Nurse magazine July-August 2011

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 19

Sue Cannon, RN I nvestment advisors often tell those approach- ing retirement age not to put all their eggs in one basket, and registered nurse Sue Cannon is taking that advice quite seriously. Like many other RNs in their late 50s and early 60s, Cannon's retire- ment nest egg is not quite what she had hoped, so she's counting on real eggs, from the chickens she raises in her backyard, to supplement her diet when she eventually has to stop working. "I figure that they'll lay eggs and at least I'll always have something to eat," said Cannon, as her three hens, Omelette, Quiche, and Fugitive, pecked at the ground around her ankles. Just a few feet away, Can- non, a novice gardener, is trying her hand at growing vegetables and herbs. Cannon is 58 and nursing is a second career for her. She became an RN some 14 years ago after raising two children, earning a doctorate degree in German litera- ture and folklore, and a few stints in other jobs. In 2004, after working seven years as an RN, Cannon took one look at her practically nonexistent 401(k) account and realized that she should find a job that offered a real pension, the kind of defined-benefit plan that guarantees a retiree a fixed amount of income every month. She also wanted to work at a unionized hospital where conditions were safer and nurses had a say about their practice. So Cannon found a surgical ICU position at UC Irvine Medical Center, one of a group of hospitals run by the statewide University of California (UC) system. UC pensions have traditionally been good. The pension funds are managed by investment professionals and overseen by a public board. In recent years, however, officials ranging from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the UC Regents have tried to eliminate these guaranteed pensions, either proposing to convert them into 401(k) accounts (which individuals would have to manage them- selves) or to have new hires get the inferior 401(k) accounts. Around that time, Cannon also felt real pressure to make more money. Her 20-something daughter, Emily, who had been studying for her master's degree in education and teaching in New York City, developed a painful illness that prevented her from working. To keep her health insurance when she needed it the most, Emily had to pay $500 a month for COBRA—money she didn't have. So Can- non paid the premiums. Emily was eventually diagnosed with inter- stitial cystitis, and over the next few years, Cannon helped cover many of her medical bills as well as her rent when she could not work or was between jobs, sometimes up to $1,000 a month. Though Emily now has health insurance through her job at a nonprofit that recruits professionals in math and sciences to become teachers, it can still be expensive to manage her condition and Can- non contributes $400 a month toward her care. In July, Emily learned that her work was changing health plans and that her rheumatologist would no longer be in her network; she may need to pay 40 to 60 percent of out-of-network costs for the doctor to keep overseeing treatments she is receiving. Cannon's youngest, Jonathan, also needed financial help. After graduating from the University of California Los Angeles in 2004, he has had difficulty finding a full-time job. He now works 28 hours per week as a teacher's aide for the princely sum of $15 an hour. Cannon and her ex-husband also supplement Jonathan's income: She sends him money toward rent, pays for his cell phone and auto insurance, and her ex-husband subsidizes his car. To pay for all these extra expenses on top of supporting herself, Cannon worked furiously, picking up extra shifts and pulling a lot of overtime. A few years ago, Cannon made a strategic decision to move to the Bay Area and transfer to the UC medical center in San Francis- co, where she would ultimately qualify for a greater pension because the wage scales are higher than at her previous facility. She figures that at her current rate, she'll need to work to at least age 68 in order to cover all her expenses. That's assuming she can sell her house in Irvine and buy a place to live outright where she can raise chickens and maybe sheep. And assuming she is no longer sending money to her children. "When I'm retired, I'll still be working," said Cannon. "That's the idea of keeping the chicken and the sheep and the gar- den—that I'm doing something practical that I can also live on." Cannon says she's "blessed" to be able to help her daughter and son, but her contributions have not come without some cost to herself. She lives very modestly, in a one-bedroom cottage in Petaluma. Though her car has logged 190,000 miles on the odometer and she's probably due for a new one, she holds off. She hasn't been able to travel as extensive- ly as she'd like to, settling for short weekend and day trips. "I just keep making it work," said Cannon. "I'm not replacing things." Though everything is fine for the moment, Cannon lives with a niggling fear that if she gets sick and can't work, or loses her job, that her life—and her kids' lives—will crumble. She's also concerned that she may need to start supplementing the income of her 85-year-old mother, who lives in a Salt Lake City assisted living home, if her Medicare and Medicaid benefits are cut. "One of the things I worry about is being two paychecks away from devastation," she reflected. "If I lost my job, or had an accident, things devolve very quickly for my kids and myself. It's not that far away for me to end up on the street." 18 N A T I O N A L N U R S E W W W . N A T I O N A L N U R S E S U N I T E D . O R G J U LY | A U G U S T 2 0 1 1 "One of the things I worry about is being two paychecks away from devastation. If I lost my job, or had an accident, things devolve very quickly for my kids and myself. It's not that far away for me to end up on the street." Profiles_REV 2 8/16/11 5:17 PM Page 18

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of National Nurses United - National Nurse magazine July-August 2011