Taking a Stand

My friend Carole is a crusader. About 25 years ago, she had a distant relative die in a nursing home. When she looked into it, she found that the doctor who looked after the patients wasn’t licensed, rarely made rounds, the State inspectors overlooked or didn’t look at dozens of flagrant violations of regulations, and there was a cozy relationship between the healthcare industry, government and nursing home operators—lots of folks were making lots of money from nursing homes at the expense and well-being of those in their care. She took a stand to do something about it. She created an organization called FATE (Foundation Aiding the Elderly) to fight abuse of the elderly. You can learn more about it or offer some support at FATE’s website.

Carole wasn’t a born activist. She went to public hearings. She made the rounds to meet with those who were supposed to be accountable. She read the regulations and learned the law. She was given the bureaucratic run-around, then shut out, then threatened with legal action, and endured campaigns impugning her motives and sanity. She persevered and has become a successful advocate for thousands of nursing home residents who are not able to speak for themselves. She has inspired hundreds of volunteers, garnered a continuous stream of media coverage and been the catalyst for both civil and criminal investigations. She has made a difference, but she has only scratched the surface. As today’s boomers reach their 80s and 90s, the importance of long-term care for those who can’t take care of themselves will expand exponentially. As stated in a recent AARP report:

With people living 30, 40, even 50 years longer than at the turn of the last century, the need for long-term care that is humane and compassionate remains essential. This enables people to age with dignity and respect.

The report focuses on the explosion of home and community-based alternatives to ‘homes’ and speculates on how the U.S. government might follow the lead of other countries to encourage, through tax and other incentives, these kinds of alternatives. I would suggest that the Boomers who, after all, have a stake in how this issue plays out, take responsibility for the problem and the opportunity as well.

As we transform what growing older means in terms of health and lifestyle, there is no reason that we cannot transform the contribution we make as well. One such contribution could be to continue to expand community-based care provided by the elderly for the elderly and put an end to all forms of institutional irresponsibility and neglect.