Kaiser Health News (now called KHN) published an article titled, “Do We Simply Not Care About Old People?” The inflammatory headline was about the high death toll of older adults from covid, saying:
The covid-19 pandemic would be a wake-up call for America, advocates for the elderly predicted: incontrovertible proof that the nation wasn’t doing enough to care for vulnerable older adults.
The death toll was shocking, as were reports of chaos in nursing homes and seniors suffering from isolation, depression, untreated illness, and neglect. Around 900,000 older adults have died of covid-19 to date, accounting for 3 of every 4 Americans who have perished in the pandemic.
Purportedly, decisive efforts to further protect the elderly from covid have not taken place. KHN laments that public health officials and politicians alike have come to think of covid as just an evitable fact of life.
Many seniors at high risk aren’t getting antiviral therapies for covid, and most older adults in nursing homes aren’t getting updated vaccines. Efforts to strengthen care quality in nursing homes and assisted living centers have stalled amid debate over costs and the availability of staff. And only a small percentage of people are masking or taking other precautions in public despite a new wave of covid, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus infections hospitalizing and killing seniors.
Given as evidence of the lack of concern for seniors was the statistic that in the 3-week period that included the final week of 2023 and the first two weeks of 2024, nearly 5,000 seniors died of covid. According to the story, 4,810 adults 65-years of age and older died of covid and another 1,201 died of influenza.
“It boggles my mind that there isn’t more outrage,” said Alice Bonner, 66, senior adviser for aging at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. “I’m at the point where I want to say, ‘What the heck? Why aren’t people responding and doing more for older adults?’”
It’s a good question. Do we simply not care?
KHN spoke with a variety of academics and public health advocates and got the usual stream of condescending, paternalistic viewpoints. Some of the comments seem to have little to do with why more seniors died from Covid than younger, healthier people.
“I think the pandemic helped reinforce images of older people as sick, frail, and isolated — as people who aren’t like the rest of us,” [Karl Pillemer, 69] said.
“Everyone loves their own parents. But as a society, we don’t value older adults or the people who care for them,” said Robert Kramer, 74…
“The message to older adults is: ‘Your time has passed, give up your seat at the table, stop consuming resources, fall in line,’” said Anne Montgomery, 65…
“We have to find ways to better integrate older adults in the community as opposed to moving them to campuses where they are apart from the rest of us,” [G. Allen Power, 70]
The examples of putting vulnerable seniors at risk that I think about was when several Northeastern states forced nursing homes to admit convalescing covid patients to free up hospital beds in 2020. The states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit covid patients in the spring o 2020. California passed a similar requirement but peddled back after a public opinion backlash. I cannot think of a riskier policy than forcing long term care facilities to mingle the sick with disabled seniors in poor health. A Congressional hearing agreed.
I know a fair number of people aged 65 years or older. With few exceptions they make their own decisions about the care they receive. Many have strong opinions about covid treatments and vaccinations. Most are capable of deciding whether they want vaccinated for covid and flu. Their adult offspring help them in instances when they’re not competent to make those decisions for themselves. As a group, seniors aren’t waiting for public health officials to commandeer their health care choices.