Upgraded Living Magazine in Chico, California Butte County features the work of Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Julia Yarbough and family caregiver; her story and the personal experience which has moved her into the realm of education, awareness and advocacy for family caregivers.
Julia Yarbough grew up in a less than conventional setting, spending the entirety of her childhood on the move.
The youngest of seven children in a military family, she was born in San Bernardino, California, but soon after, the US Air Force transferred the family to Japan at Johnson Air Force Base. Eventually, they returned and settled at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
“When you’re that young, there are specific memories you have, but you may not see the bigger picture.” Julia reminisced about her childhood, “In retrospect, without knowing it, the experience paved the way for me to be very chameleon-like—almost a nomad. You’re used to having your friends come and go. You learn how to engage with strangers, make friends more easily, and adapt to change. I didn’t notice how important that was until I began to meet people who were born and raised in the same town. They had a more difficult time adapting to change than I did. Thanks to growing up in the military, I learned to stay somewhere a few years, then pick up and move without thinking about it. It was just natural, and not everybody can do that.”
Little did she know the experience would pave the way for her future success as well. Julia graduated high school in 1983 with no earthly idea of which direction she would go. She entered college expecting to find that ‘aha’ moment—a moment that did not materialize in a traditional sense. She studied economics thinking it was a broad enough field, but quickly found she preferred words to numbers. Attending UC Santa Barbara gave Julia a new vision for possible pathways.
“It was an eye-opening experience.” Julia recalled, “Growing up on a military base, you’re somewhat insulated from the realities of the world around you. I grew up surrounded by diversity, and my group of friends were like a little rainbow— we represented every color, shade, and ethnicity you could imagine. My time in Santa Barbara was my first experience where kids didn’t mix due to the color of their skin, and it was a pivotal time for me. I spent my junior year studying in London and returned to the level of diversity I knew from my time on military bases, but it was the first time seeing the true wealth disparity that existed in the world. On the one hand, you have your regular Londoners; on the other, you have heirs to Middle Eastern oil money. The level of wealth was so crazy different. In Santa Barbara, we thought Hollywood money was the pinnacle of wealth. It didn’t even come close.”
Even with her myriad experiences and the world being laid bare in front of her, the path to her true passion had become no more illuminated. As she approached graduation, a campus advisor in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) asked if she would be willing to film a short video about her experiences. She agreed, and her advisor immediately complimented her on her ease of delivery and poise in front of the camera. A former broadcast television veteran herself, she asked if Julia had thought of working in the industry. The thought had never crossed her mind. The advisor reached out to her old colleagues and secured an internship for Julia at KEYT in Santa Barbara, where she began working in 1987.
The internship taught Julia the key points of broadcast journalism and allowed her to interact with a number of industry heavyweights, like famed CNN reporter Paul Vercammen. There were no computers, no cell phones, and of course, no social media. Instead, you were either out chasing a story or recording your notes in front of a typewriter. “It used to be so linear.” Julia stated, “Now you’re trying to go in 50 million directions to create something the broadcaster needed three hours ago. I absolutely loved the old style of broadcast journalism, and it was finally something I felt a connection with, so I decided to give it a shot. I sent my résumé reel on a ¾” tape to stations around the United States and got a call back from Pensacola, Florida. Growing up in California, I knew very little about anything east of the Rockies. California was the center of the world for me. They were looking at a couple other people, and they offered me $15,500 per year to move across the country, sight-unseen, and work at the ABC affiliate, WEAR in Pensacola. I just remember hanging up the phone, jumping up and down, and screaming with excitement after accepting the offer. I got up and moved to Pensacola with nothing to reference. It wasn’t until I arrived there that I realized how well we have it and how spoiled we really are as Californians.”
It was Julia’s first time experiencing the deep south and her first time seeing how people in much of the rest of the country live. One of her first stories involved a nearby town weighing the pros and cons of installing a city sewage system. One of her interviewees, an elderly woman whose
kids had moved away, still left her home and headed to an outhouse when she needed to use the bathroom. The home was ratty, with ripped furniture on the porch and a dilapidated roof overhead. As Julia recalled, the woman was incredibly sweet, but realizing how she lived her life gave her a better understanding of the differences that exist even here in the United States. During her time in Pensacola, she covered countless stories that only further illustrated this divide. After two years with WEAR in Pensacola, she was whisked away to a new job offer in Louisville, Kentucky.
Over the years that followed, Julia made good use of the skillset she unknowingly honed as a child, living a relatively nomadic lifestyle throughout the United States. After Louisville, she moved to WSVN in Miami, Florida, where she anchored the FOX news network’s morning show. Known for its “If it bleeds it leads” slogan, she found herself covering violent crime stories more often than not, which unsurprisingly was a culture shock coming from Kentucky. After a handful of years, she moved to KCBS in Los Angeles to take up their weekend anchor position, and a job offer she simply couldn’t refuse. Julia reminisced, “It was the most primo position you could ask for. I was making more money than I thought was humanly possible. There were so many perks—I had my own parking space with my name on it, each day was a different party, and everyone treated me so well, but I really didn’t take well to living in Los Angeles. I felt like a caged animal surrounded by concrete, so when I received a job offer to return to Miami in 1998 at NBC’s WTVJ, I jumped at the chance.”
Julia remained in Miami until 2009, anchoring the 5pm, 7pm, and 10pm news shows Monday through Friday.
“I had reached a point where I had the best position I could.” Julia said, “You’re being invited to everything and having the most incredible experiences, but I felt like I wasn’t telling stories anymore; I was just reading the news. This car went into a canal, this house is on fire, this person robbed a bank, this person had an accident—it was all so monotonous. My life had become nothing but work, work, work. On the surface, I had everything I wanted, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Being in the news, I had a number of friends who were first responders, and I saw tragedy all the time. I couldn’t help but realize just how quickly things can change, and I remember thinking I never wanted to wonder should I have tried something different.”
She followed her instinct and took five years off to escape the rat race, and launched a blog platform called, “Highway to a Husband.” The blog followed her year-long adventures, traveling back-and-forth across the country with a close friend in search of their future husbands.
“We lived out of the car for a year” Julia started, “and we made headlines doing it. We were booked on The Today Show, and we were even offered to put a reality show together with Nate Berkus. It was an amazing, crazy year, and the website was successful, but we weren’t entrepreneurs or business people—just reporters. We tried to figure out how to monetize it all and turn it into a business, but we were running out of money and energy, so we decided to call it quits.”
Her mother, Miss Nellie, had also moved to southern Florida during this five-year adventure, to be closer to Julia during those times when she was at home.
Julia returned to Miami Beach and went back to work, this time in the government sector.
She was hired by the City of Miami Beach to be part of their communications department and was tasked with developing PSAs for the fire and police departments alongside other local organizations. Though hectic, the experience involved less traveling which allowed her to remain closer to home. Over the years, Julia began noticing her mother’s health and condition declining.
It became clear Miss Nellie would need more focused care in the years to come. Julia dedicated herself to providing that care and assisting her mother in the day-to-day needs that were becoming progressively more difficult to complete on her own.
Even still, she didn’t fully recognize what that entailed or what she was becoming.
Julia recounted, “I’ve realized that people are often caregiving but not willing to tell people they’re doing it. I was realizing mom was getting slower, she was having trouble getting up and down her stairs, and she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which she really didn’t want to accept. It’s neurological, so there’s really no way you can stop it. She was diabetic with high blood pressure, and it was just a bad combination of things. I had to accept that she was going to need help, and that she would continue to decline as long as she lived. It wasn’t easy, but I had to come to terms with the fact that you have two choices—you can continue to get older and face decline, or you can die. If you want to continue living, you have to face what that means. You have to be pragmatic. You don’t retire, get old, and die. You get old, you decline, you get older, and you decline. Then you need help, and most people don’t realize that or want to accept it.” It wasn’t easy for Julia to accept, and it’s understandably difficult to publish.
Successful in blogging, but unsuccessful on the relationship front during her yearlong “Highway to a Husband” adventure, Julia ironically met someone special while sitting completely still at home, in front of her computer, browsing the dating website eHarmony. Robert lived in Santa Monica, and after some back and forth visits, the two decided to find a place they could both agree on and move in together. They began researching communities throughout California, wanting to get away from the traffic and congestion she had known in larger cities, and the two found what they were looking for in Chico. They moved in April 2016, and Julia’s mother moved with them.
Originally, the two expected to find the perfect property with two homes on one lot, but not being able to find it on their initial search, they decided to move her into their home and continue the search.
Upon moving in, they realized she was in need of more help than they originally thought. Though Julia cared for her mother in Florida, she also had a caregiver who helped her three times per week. The additional help had blinded her to just how much assistance her mother truly needed.
“You really have to pay attention to your elders.” Julia cautioned, “When you ask them how they’re doing, they’ll always say they’re doing fine. You have to look around their bedrooms, their kitchen, and their bathrooms. If something hasn’t been cleaned for a few days, it may be because they simply can’t clean it. There are numerous red flags that you really have to be aware of.”
Somewhat luckily for Julia, she had purchased a long-term health plan for her mother while working in the newsroom. The cost was $444 per month and provided an $89 per day reimbursement for in-home care or nursing home care, but didn’t cover assisted living. “If something goes haywire when it comes to an elder in need of care, the experience could sink you.” Julia warned, “People really need to read their policies and ask a lot of questions. It was something I unfortunately didn’t do, but luckily the plan provided some benefits. Most care agencies are going to charge anywhere between $20-30 per hour, and in 3 ½ hours, I had used up the entire day’s reimbursement.”
Though Julia had help in Florida, she hadn’t hired any in Chico. She spent the first few months getting her bearings, and building a career in Chico, joining the Chico Police Department in February 2017. A year later, Action News Now came calling, pulling Julia back into broadcast.
In February of 2018, just as she started her new job with Action News Now, her mother had a heart attack which landed Miss Nellie in Enloe Hospital. “A friend reached out and told me to make sure they keep her in the hospital under watch for 72 hours, as it was the only way to trigger her full benefits within Medicare coverage.” Julia remembered, “I had no idea how any of it worked, and I’m so lucky he told me.
The hospital gave us a list of Medicare approved locations, and luckily we only had five to look at since we’re such a small community. I took the list and went to each location, and distinctly remember that I wouldn’t leave my mother in any of them, regardless of the length of her stay. They weren’t clean or neat, and the people there weren’t being tended to. With 24 hours left before the hospital released her, I found a rehab facility in California Park, off Bruce Road, and it was the first I found to be clean and neat. It was literally the only one I felt comfortable having my mom transferred to. I kept wondering how people who had to do this remotely could even begin to understand what they were getting themselves into?”
Julia’s mother completed her rehabilitation at the California Park facility before returning home. As time went on, her health gradually declined, and Julia decided to hire in-home care. She interviewed a number of companies and found Happy at Home to be the best. “One woman pulled out a clipboard and wanted me to fill out a credit card application before we even talked. She didn’t even ask my mother’s name, nor did she seem to care. I was shocked, and I came to find that it’s what most people encounter. I immediately told her to leave. It’s such a heart-wrenching experience to even have to consider someone else caring for your loved one. You know it’s the best decision, but it isn’t easy. I’m well-educated, and I have resources along with the emotional fortitude to hold my ground. I know that a lot of other people don’t. They’re scared for their loved ones, and they don’t know where to turn. It simply shouldn’t be that way.”
Julia’s mother continued on with a blend of in-home care through Julia and Robert alongside the caregivers from Happy at Home until January of 2020, when they realized she would need around-the-clock care at an assisted living facility. Nellie passed away September 1st of last year and is buried in San Francisco’s Presidio National Cemetery next to her husband, USAF TSGT. Donald Yarbough. The experience lit a fire in Julia, and in her mother’s memory, she decided to advocate for those in the same situation.
“I call myself the accidental advocate. I didn’t know any of this was even a concern before I was thrust into it with my mother’s failing health. Now, I’ve dedicated myself to becoming a resource for others, but I still warn people there are no easy answers. As prepared as I thought I was, there were still so many surprises. You don’t know what you don’t know.” Julia advised, “If you have an elder you love, assume they’ll live until they need help doing everything. Start there and work your way backwards. RESEARCH. When the Medicare book arrives before they turn 65, pick up the book and read through it. There’s so much to know.”
Recently, Julia was chosen as a journalist representative with the Gerontological Society of America due to her work in the field, and is hard at work on a website and blog to assist in her advocacy. “My goal in moving down this caregiving advocacy role is to open people’s eyes. I want people to be aware that this isn’t just for our parents and grandparents, but for everyone.” Julia said, “If someone wants help, I want to be able to help them, rather than have them dig through levels of some government website to try and find something like I had to. I want it to be practical and easy. I didn’t know what I would find when I started, and now that I do, I’m taking action to make sure others have an easier time than I did.”
Asked for a final piece of advice, Julia replied, “If you feel like you have a loved one, and you’re heading down this road, reach out to folks who have been through it already. A friend of mine who had helped prep me a few years ago told me to go visit care facilities early on. Introduce yourself and establish a relationship with the administration and the owners, so they know you right now. That way, if you need to find a place, you know where you’d never place your parents, and which places you would. If they already know you, there’s a slim chance they would hold the bed for you. Build relationships. It’s a hard thing to think about, but you have to physically go see places. Show up without an appointment, and you’ll see places how they really are.”
Julia has been working with the good people at Passages Caregiver Resource Center to help advocate for accidental caregivers like herself over the past year, and her fire has only grown brighter. If you’re in need of direction providing care for a loved one, visit her website at www.keepingitrealcaregiving.com and reach out to Passages Caregiver Resource Center at (530) 898-5925 or visit them online at www.passagescenter.org.