This is not a problem, this is a damn Victorian tragedy.
The American Association of Retired Persons’s (AARP) assessment of Indiana’s long-term services first shocked then disgusted me. The AARP is an honorable organization, and one of the largest lobbying groups in the United States, and for good reason: it betters the lives of our aging population. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 15% of American citizens are 65 years or older, but that number will grow to 25% by 2060.
The AARP revealed the number of Hoosiers over the age of 85 will grow 48% by 2030. That age is significant; while those over 65 might not necessarily need assistance or resources, that number skyrockets as age increases. By 2030, almost 200,000 citizens of Indiana will be over 85, largely underserved or discarded by the state and, I am sorry to say, its citizens.
Why is this not Indiana’s biggest issue?
I comb the news on a daily basis, and I would love to say that my poor news-skimming skills missed this story. I know that’s not the case. Editors pushed this story “below the fold”, most likely because of the financial strain common to that age group. When charting consumer expenditures by age group, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered only two age groups average more expenses than income: Americans below the age of 25 and above the age of 75.
Even more tragically, this issue is not new. Indiana has consistency ranked poorly in long-term care for its disabled and elderly citizens, and AARP’s assessments of the state have grown worse in the last decade.
What is Indiana doing wrong?
There is no mystery to what Indiana is doing wrong. The AARP knows what we are doing wrong and so do most informed citizens. It’s the nursing homes.
Our tradition of nursing homes directly descends from the English concept of poorhouses, which began in the late 1600s under the guise of humanitarian care. English and (later) American citizens with disabilities, mental illnesses, or suffering poverty were placed in communal living conditions, with officials arguing it provided the only cost-effective method of treating, housing, and providing for those in need.
This isn’t politics; it’s family, decency, and dignity.
Last year, my grandfather passed away at 91. Over the last few years, heart issues had winded his body, and then Alzheimer’s had worn away his memory. He was always sort of distracted when it came to conversation (since I was a toddler, he had called me by my brother’s name half the time), I remember vividly having pizza with my grandmother and him one afternoon and watching him scrunch up his eyebrows when he looked at me. He was trying to remember who I was.
But when he passed away, he did so at home, with my grandmother at his side, and with his family carrying for him, and aiding his nursing until the end. He was one of the coolest guys I ever knew. I don’t think I was ever as proud of my family as I was in those weeks or months—especially my grandmother, in her 80s herself and with COPD, lifting and moving my grandfather around by the belt on his jeans. She’s still as sharp as a new knife. Tough lady. Tough family. That’s not politics.
I assume most of us have similar love for our families, regardless of our political affiliation. Democrat, Republican, Independent…almost all of us love our grandparents and parents. That might be love from a distance, but it’s love nonetheless. With that commonality, ALL Hoosiers should be furious at how we have failed our elders, and adamant in seeing it fixed.
But it won’t be easy, because the nursing home industry in Indiana is Big Business. How big are we talking? We’re talking an entrenched army of small, medium, and corporate businesses running up and down the Hoosier state. We’re talking Medicaid dollars, so that’s in the billions. We’re talking hospitals, pharmaceuticals, and Social Security. We’re talking about $25 million in lobbying.