"The fear of illness balanced with the isolation and the separation from family is excruciating," is a common feeling for many older Pennsylvanians.
The Senator wants to learn how your community is doing during the pandemic and hear your concerns for him as Congress considers legislation going forward. These were the words on an invitation I received to join Senator Casey on a call to talk COVID.
As the ranking member of the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, Senator Casey’s office is reaching out to Pennsylvanians who had previously testified before the committee.
I was first asked to speak with Senator Casey on behalf of York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging initiative and its many partners in June 2017. The topic was Aging with Community: Building Connections that Last a Lifetime. The senators wanted to hear ways the federal government can best support creating livable communities.
As honored as I was to testify in 2017, I felt a deeper responsibility to participate on the more recent call to share how the pandemic is impacting us and how the federal government can best respond.
Embracing Aging envisions a vibrant York County where all ages can thrive. We want older people to live easily in their homes and communities. We believe older residents taking an active role and having their voices heard is important in to increasing quality of life.
The pandemic has disrupted the usual ways we live our lives. It’s also caused increased fear, isolation, loneliness, and "us versus them" thinking. This is especially true for some older people.
Embracing Aging engages with over fifty leaders across all sectors to help advise our work. To prepare for the call with Senator Casey, I reached out to them and asked them to share how COVID is impacting their lives, along with ideas for how the federal government can best help.
"The fear of illness balanced with the isolation and the separation from family is excruciating," shared one person. Sadly, this was a common theme among all responses.
As I shared these concerns with Senator Casey, I also cited examples of ageism, especially in healthcare, like long term care being the last in line for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Do you know there was even a hashtag trending alluding to the fact that it’s okay that older people are impacted by COVID?
We must keep in mind that not just age dictates COVID mortality; underlying health conditions are a contributing factor. It’s not okay to assume that all people age 65 and older are frail, vulnerable, or victims. In fact, some came out of retirement to share their wisdom on the frontlines.
I asked the Senator for consistent federal guidelines and leadership regarding COVID’s response and messaging. I asked that we attempt to learn from what happened during COVID and try to focus on alternatives to physical and social isolation, and that older adults be included in these discussions. I also asked for elected officials to call out ageism and to be held accountable for their words, actions, and policies that perpetuate ageism.
Senator Casey said he refuses to accept the deaths in nursing homes and is committed to addressing it. I appreciate his dedication to learning from this as urgent and decisive action is needed to reduce these mortality rates. I’m also mindful that only 3-4% of qualifying older adults live in nursing homes. I’m concerned about the 96-97% who are on their own and trying to adjust to their new normal. The short- and long-term effects of these unprecedented times have left many of us feeling unstable.
I thanked the Senator for introducing the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities, and for voting for the Families First Coronavirus Act and the CARES Act, and concluded the call with a request to enact policy to support the needs of older people.
We are an aging society, and data demonstrates that each future generation will continue to live longer. The impact of this change has not yet been fully reflected in government policies affecting a community’s infrastructure, Social Security, and Medicare. The heavy lifting to support this change must come from government, yet we play a key role, too. It’s our responsibility to share our concerns and ideas with elected officials and hold them accountable for enacting legislation that assures all ages can have the best quality life possible.
Originally published by the York Daily Record, a member of the USA TODAY Network. York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging is a long-term initiative that focuses on improving how people experience aging in York County by disrupting negative views on aging and working towards creating an age-friendly community. To learn more, visit www.yccf.org.