Kevin Farmer

Kevin Farmer, who has cerebral palsy, is in danger of being forced to enter a nursing home.

Kevin Farmer, who has cerebral palsy, is in danger of being forced to enter a nursing home.

Kevin Farmer


WILMINGTON, NC – Kevin Farmer doesn’t want to be in inspiration to anyone.

“When people tell me that, I don’t want to be rude to them, but I’m just living my life,” he says.

Farmer lives in a small, sparsely furnished apartment in Wilmington close to his favorite coffee shop. He does an occasional deejay gig and, having been raised in the suburbs of New York, he loves the New York Yankees.

He is a 38-year-old man with above-average intelligence and a wicked wit. But he has to depend on others to help him through his day.

Farmer has cerebral palsy, leaving him unable to walk or perform many of the tasks most people take for granted. He was born several weeks premature on Nov. 20, 1971, weighing just over 4 pounds.

“Today that’s nothing, but it was a big deal then,” says his mother, Paula Hartman. “We couldn’t touch him for a week. He didn’t come home for over a month.”

Although he needs help for several hours each day, he treasures the level of independence he does have.

            “Sure, I have to have somebody help me go to the bathroom and get in and out of bed, but other than that, I’m copasetic with the rest of you.”

            Farmer majored in sociology at UNC Wilmington, “because I wanted to see what makes people tick, why people react the way they do to people with disabilities.”


A chance to educate others

            One reason Farmer loves living in the community is that he can educate people about disability issues, and he does so with a sense of humor

            Because he uses an electric wheelchair, people often assume he has a cognitive disability as well.

            “Some people talk really loud,” he said, laughing. “I can’t walk but I can hear.”

But Farmer’s independence may be coming to an end. Because of the North Carolina state budget cuts, eligibility for Medicaid has been cut from 150 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. Farmer’s income – disability and survivor’s benefits from his father, a disabled veteran who died of a service-related illness – is less than $15,000 a year, but he is being forced to pay about $2,000 a month (a so-called spend-down) to maintain his services. This leaves him about $250 to live on.

            “Nobody can live on that,” he says.

            Recently, a worker presented him with a bill while he was sitting at a coffee shop and told him it had to be paid in full that day or his services could be pulled.

            Hartman thinks the whole thing smacks of extortion because if he’s late getting the money to his service provider, his home health aide might not show up. Without the services, Farmer will have to go into a nursing home, where he will have less freedom and few choices about his life.

            And every month, that threat looms, and Farmer struggles to come up with the money.

Standing up for what’s right

            Farmer has lived in this limbo for several months, but he is fighting.

            “My parents raised me to be respectful, but I don’t take any shit,” he said.

            He has called the New Hanover County Department of Social Services, but has found little help there.

            “They have 200 cases,” he says. “They don’t have time to solve my problems. I think they don’t like me very much because I speak up for myself.”

            Farmer has applied for a waiver that will allow him to keep his modest income and continue to live outside of an institution. But unless that approval comes soon, he could be forced into a nursing home.

            He thought of getting a job and a job coach lined up several interviews, but none of the offices was accessible.

“I suggested maybe he could work as a greeter at Wal-Mart,” Hartman said. “But he said he doesn’t want to be the cripple at the door.”

“I don’t need to be on display, handing out stickers and telling people to have a nice day,” he said.

But it became a moot point because he learned getting any income would only make his situation worse.

“The more you make, the more you pay,” Hartman said. “You would have to be a multi-millionaire to survive without any benefits.”

Farmer will continue to fight to stay in the community and for a more just system for people who have disabilities.

“I’m just living my life,” he says.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Visit our new web site

It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

Help Life o’ Mike

We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or

Contact your representatives

Ask them what they're doing to fix health care!

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.