You can learn a lot watching your parents’ generation get old. To paraphrase a quote of Sam Johnson about how society treats the poor, how society treats its elderly provides a good test of its priorities. The United States has made the nursing home industry one of its pillars of profit, routinely charging exorbitant fees to anyone with the misfortune to need their assistance. As an admissions officer explained to me when I was assisting an elderly lady with her placement, I shouldn’t be concerned about a facility charge of $9765 a month. Once her assets were gone, she’d be on public assistance. If only my lady had had a crystal ball, she could have spent her assets earlier on cruise ships instead. Her finances would have come out the same.
It’s my judgment that the nursing home industry, like healthcare in the United States generally, suffers from having been turned over to the expertise of big money capitalists. How much will people pay to stay healthy? How much will they pay to stay alive? Turns out that they will pay a lot, conveniently transferring their life earnings, their life savings, to stockholders in some rich man’s portfolio. That’s not how it works in much of the industrialized world where healthcare is understood to be a right rather than a “risk” to be insured against. I’m not against “capital formation”, or the right of businesses to a reasonable profit, or the incentive that derives from profiting from one’s ingenuity. But I do think a society should treat its vulnerable people, its poor, elderly, sick, disabled, as valued members of the community, not as politically powerless dupes to be exploited. So, I’m embarrassed by how we do things here.
Still, I can cite one positive experience. Over the last ten years or so since my dad died, my mother has been living on her own at the family farm, the center of her family history and personal lore. It’s where she has been comfortable. Over the years she had built up a substantial network of neighbors and friends. And until recently, when her health took a turn for the worse and she needed full time care, her living alone was significantly assisted by the local Meals on Wheels program largely carried out by volunteers. The fact that she would be checked on and provided a meal and have the certainty of human contact each day made life on her own both practical and more palatable than the looming and (to her) dreaded supervised assisted living.
My mother is not alone. Meals on Wheels is an excellent way of leveraging limited resources to help the elderly live autonomous lives that vastly improve their later years. We should, if anything, be looking to better fund these programs to help more people. Instead, this morning, I flip on my computer to encounter this: “Meals on Wheels could take funding hit in Trump budget” by Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN. The details aren’t really in, but the bottom line is that the Trump administration is proposing to defund programs that benefit the elderly, even as they propose to expand our World’s largest military.
It’s what we’ve come to expect from Trump and the right-wing Republicans – soulless ideologues whose policies hurt those least able to resist. I will neither forgive nor forget.