COVID-19 and Older Adults
The vulnerabilities of older adults to the coronavirus are being widely discussed in this new world. The protection of our most vulnerable and susceptible community members—elders, those who are immuno-compromised—is paramount to our resilience as people, families and communities. But the conversations I have been seeing are largely around safety practices in order to prevent older adults from contracting the virus. While this of course is of vital importance, the systemic issues underlying the spread of the virus are largely being left out of mainstream conversation. Issues such as the lack of support systems and stable housing, access to affordable long-term care and Medicaid must to be central in our discussions.
While many may feel these issues are less important in the face of this pandemic, I argue if all older adults had equitable access to housing, healthcare and support services, the threat posed by coronavirus would be much better controlled and managed. It is a sad state of affairs when not only are our elders susceptible to a virus, but also susceptible to starvation and isolation. The dangers of this pandemic and the dangers of systemic inequities are inherently intertwined, one shining a stark light on the other.
Older adults in this country have so often been ignored and overlooked. As this virus calls our attention to these most vulnerable community members, let us take the lessons we are learning now—about creating systems of support and mutual aid, as well as attention and care—forward into the future. In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We must face the systems that discriminate against and ignore the needs of older adults. May we move forward into this new world with a deeper compassion, empathy and appreciation for our elders, and let us build a world that reflects our newfound humility and care.
Social Work Intern
Columbia School of Social Work class of 2020