We are not even two weeks into a global pandemic and many in the President’s Administration and people around the country are ready to abandon our vulnerable elders to save our economy.
This is a false choice.
I oversee the administration of services that allow our oldest and frailest adults to age independently with dignity. For more than 70 years, Choice in Aging has been fighting ageism and embracing the joy and enrichment that seniors bring to our community. For this very reason, we opened an intergenerational Montessori preschool that provides periodic skills-appropriate activities to do alongside older adults; teaching our youngest that aging is not something to be feared.
As our population ages rapidly, we are at an exciting and unknown juncture: how will we break down generational barriers and allow more people to age independently, in their own homes, while retaining a sense of community?
Instead, today, we are now faced with the horror that our elderly and vulnerable are expendable. This is not who we are. We do not leave our most vulnerable alone to face catastrophe. This idea that someone who is old has served his or her useful purpose and is now a burden to our economy – to this I say, “Oh, hell, no!”
My greatest life lesson came from a 92 year-old man when I was 17 years-old, working at the Motion Picture and TV Fund Retirement Community. He told me in his life, he learned to never regret anything. It took me years, but I finally learned it meant learning from my mistakes. That has guided me my whole adult life. And we have an opportunity to not make a mistake now.
Already, we are seeing the positive effects of sheltering in place in the Bay Area and in California; in just one week we are flattening the curve, suppressing and containing COVID-19. We are leading the country in how not to overwhelm hospitals with sick Americans of every age, not just the elderly and health-compromised.
Sheltering in place is unsettling. Many in our communities are suffering economically. This is truly a frightening time and how we respond to this crisis says everything about who we are as individuals, as a community, as a nation.
Our economy will recover, just like those stricken by COVID-19 will be given a chance to recover if we do the right thing now and stop the spread of the virus. Hospitals overwhelmed with dying people will not restore our economy.
Self-determination defines Americans. So does our social compact. It’s time to step outside ourselves and do what is right. Please, allow us to get ahead of COVID-19 and ensure it is contained before we loosen the controls in place. Please, stay home.
We should all have the privilege of growing old. How we face this crisis will have far-reaching implications for our elderly today and for how you are treated should you be given the privilege of growing old.
Debbie Toth is President and CEO of Choice in Aging and Choice in Learning, based in Pleasant Hill, CA. She was recently appointed by California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly to the California Masterplan for Aging Stakeholder Advisory Committee. The Committee is creating a blueprint for building an age-friendly environment in California.