We were told by government officials that the lockdown was necessary to protect our vulnerable populations and to prevent overwhelming hospitals. As compassionate Americans, we listened. We destroyed our economy and our livelihoods. We left millions of individuals unsure of how they would pay their bills or put food on their tables. We temporarily and permanently shuttered businesses—both corporate and locally owned and loved. We suspended significant learning opportunities for our children and young adults. We did all of this because as Americans we recognize that each life has value.
But did those officials keep faith with us? While we upended our lives, did they make the best decisions regarding those most truly vulnerable—our senior citizens?
We cut ourselves off from our vulnerable loved ones in the hope that our distance would spare them from contracting and succumbing to COVID-19. We placed their care and well-being under the sole discretion of the care facilities in which they live. In our state of isolation, we are left with little information and no way to verify the quality of care our loved ones are receiving—or the effects of government directives on those facilities.
The headlines read like horror stories: One-Third of All U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Are Nursing Home Residents or Workers, COVID-19: nursing homes account for ‘staggering’ share of US deaths, data show, and COVID-19 Outbreak At San Antonio Nursing Home: 67 Positive Cases, 3 Dead.
One concerned daughter reached out pleading for help. Her mother, a resident of a nursing home facility in Texas, has been kept in conditions resembling solitary confinement for the past three months even though the county in which she resides, with a population of more than 60,000 people, has had only 22 positive cases of COVID-19 and three deaths.
Solitary confinement is a questionable and heavily debated tactic used on prisoners with documented detrimental effects.
Robert King, an ex-inmate who was kept in solitary confinement for close to three decades detailed the effects it had on his overall health and cognitive abilities. Upon gaining his freedom, King “realized he had trouble recognizing faces and had to retrain his eyes to learn what a face was like. His sense of direction was also messed up, and he was unable to follow a simple route in the city by himself.”
Social isolation among the elderly is known to increase risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurocognitive, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
Stories like the one above from the concerned daughter is why I created Texas Senior Watch. In the pre-COVID world, our trained staff would enter your loved one’s care facilities to offer a friendly face, kind conversation, and provide you with the peace of mind that your loved one is safe and well cared for.
In today’s landscape where care facilities are locked down by government order and visitors are prohibited, too many families are left to wonder. Did we make the right decision? Are our loved ones being properly and compassionately cared for? Was our response, while good intentioned, done in error?
While there is no way to know whether a different response would have garnered a different outcome, what we do know is that this response of isolation is not humane or compassionate.
These individuals have lived storied lives. They served their country in war, navigated economic depressions and booms, created the communities in which we live, and raised the generation that is now responsible for providing the best care possible for their golden years in this unprecedented time.
We can and we must do better.
Jamie Mathis is a member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Liberty Leadership Council San Antonio chapter. She is a practicing attorney and the founder of Texas Senior Watch.