Medically Vulnerable Americans Should Have Been Protected from COVID: They Weren’t
During the 1918 flu pandemic, younger, healthier adults were the most likely people to die from the scourge sweeping across the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic the weakened immune systems of the frail elderly and other age groups with illnesses impacting immunity were the most likely to die from the disease.
Unlike 1918, by 2020 a major industry based on institutionalization of disabled individuals – most of whom are elderly – had developed. The euphemism for these institutions is “nursing homes,” but they are medical facilities designed for the care and treatment of individuals who need long-term skilled nursing care. The long-term care business is highly financialized and extractive. The primary objective of corporations providing skilled nursing is to protect and enhance shareholder value. Therefore, suppression of labor and other costs takes precedence over the quality of care provided to patients.
No real preparation for preventing the scourge from sweeping through long-term care facilities was undertaken by providers nor by the federal and state agencies responsible for regulating the industry. By virtue of the how these so called nursing homes are designed and managed, patients in them were more vulnerable than they would have been in their own homes. It is not surprising that approximately 30 to 40 percent of the 560,000 deaths from COVID in the U.S. have been patients in long-term care. Steps could have been taken to prevent what is no doubt one of the two largest mass mortalities of institutionalized individuals in U.S. history – the other being U.S. military troops during the 1918 flu pandemic.
As the COVID Pandemic Recedes Due to Vaccine, There is Little Interest in Accountability
The tragedy of mass mortality in long-term care institutions along with lack of interest in a major investigation into why it happened and who is responsible for it are directly related to the value placed on the lives of disabled Americans. Elderly people in general are among groups of U.S. citizens considered of little value to the economic system and to society in general. The same can be said about younger people with disabilities.
Therefore, institutionalizing people seen as noncontributing members of society places them in grave danger. This is especially the case when they are “out of sight and out of mind.” Corporations are paid plenty to provide them with an optimum quality of life, but through financialized management in a system they dominate they are able to extract cash from debilitating and life shortening care. That they have been able to carry on that business with impunity and cause the death of hundreds of thousands of people in their care should cause grave concern for the future well-being of disabled Americans.
Because the lives of elders and people with disabilities are devalued, there is no moral hazard to executives who neglect patients for the sake of cash flow. They will see no reason to seek innovation in care that would provide a healthier life for people in their care. Indeed, they will discover ever more innovative ways to enhance and protect shareholder value. Unfortunately, this will happen through collaboration with agencies of government.