Before the racial crisis began and as the COVID-19 crisis was starting to cool down (maybe?), I did a little poll on Twitter and asked friends what they thought the biggest failure had been in the crisis so far?
I received many enlightening responses.
Some felt that a lack of “coordinated Federal response,” was the biggest failure. Others felt that not implementing travel restrictions quickly enough was the biggest error. Still others pointed to a general breakdown in leadership. All good points.
Of course anyone can Monday morning quarterback and there is certainly much blame to go around. I personally agree with one of the respondents who talked about travel restrictions. In retrospect shutting down all travel from outside countries really fast would have been a meaningful and concrete step that would have had a big impact.
I don’t claim to know what the single biggest failure was. But I can tell you something that bothers me in my gut: how we as a society fail to protect the elderly and frail.
If you believe that a society is only as good a how it treats its weakest members, there should be some events over the past few months that give you pause. Two stick out to me.
Failure to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19.
This one is hard to fathom. The COVID-19 virus first made itself known to us through a nursing home outbreak near Seattle, Washington. Yet we still didn’t act with the urgency necessary to protect residents of these facilities well enough. In many pats of the country around 50% of the COVID-19 deaths were attributed to nursing home residents. Policies such as strict isolation, prioritized testing and treatment, over protection with PPE all could have helped.
New York State, my state of residence, in fact made it illegal for nursing homes to refuse admittance of COVID-19 positive residents after hospital discharge. Not until almost a month too late did the state acknowledge the folly of this policy when it was clear that the virus was ripping through nursing homes like wild fire.
On the surface it looks like an anti discriminatory policy. Nursing homes wouldn’t want to take responsibility for COVID-19 patients. But if you think about it critically for a second you will recognize that it’s nearly impossible to perform strict isolation in a nursing home. A better solution would have been to have designated COVID-19 positive facilities where residents to fully recover and not put others at risk. Unfortunately that’s not how it played out.
The message is clear: if you put your loved ones in a nursing home, don’t assume that they will be safe from outbreaks. In fact, assume that law enacted to allegedly protect their health, may in fact directly harm them. It’s a sobering thought. But one with which we must all grapple and for which we need to concretely prepare.
The second image that sticks out in my mind, (partly because it relates to the same topic of how we treat the aged and partly because it went viral straight from my backyard of Buffalo, NY) was that of a lone 75 year old man who Buffalo police shoved to the ground causing him to sustain a head injury.
From my understanding, the man was protesting in Niagara Square just prior to the implementation of curfew. In the video he appears to walk up to the line of police offers in riot gear and reach for one of their arms (it is hard to tell if he makes contact or not). One of the officers pushes him in the chest and he stumbles backward and audibly smacks his head against the concrete and starts bleeding. He appears motionless for some time. Eventually he was taken to the hospital.
Was he “instigating?” I don’t know. But 50+ armed riot police against an unarmed 75 year-old man doesn’t create the best image.
I do not have all of the answers. But these few examples show that there is a disconnect between the ancient ethic of honoring our elders and the reality of modern life.
It’s an issue with which we will need to grapple if we want to live in a world that does not cast us aside when we get older. I personally don’t know how to reform the police so that they do not shove elderly men to the ground or get through to nursing home directors and the state leaders. Those are system issues on which many of us have an opinion, but few are politically connected enough to produce concrete change.
I do know that I still remember how my parents actively welcomed my own grandparents into their home for the last 4 years of their lives. I do know that it left an indelible mark on me as to what compassion for one’s own older family looks like. I do know some of the concrete steps such as establishing an in-law suite in our own home that we have taken to make sure that we can help take care of our elders should the need arise.
It seems that basic guiding principles sometimes get diluted the farther away they get from one-on-one action (child to parent, parent to grandparent) and the more they become a function of a “system.” Most of us only have control on that one-on-one scale.
Are we taking enough concrete steps in our own daily life to ensure that we are keeping our elders out of harm’s way?