May 31, 2020

Seniors Implore Governors: Open Up Our World Again

By Ginger Ross Breggin and Peter Breggin M.D.

May 31, 2020

Some things are more precious than life itself.  The awkward hug from a grandson.  Holding your baby granddaughter. Laughing with your own beloved adult child.  Visiting with fellow church members after service. Going to the grave of your spouse of 60 years with your children. Sitting around the dining room table sharing stories of those camping adventures you had as a family when your kids were small.  Knowing that in just 3 days you will be visited again by your daughter.  Having coffee with your best friend. 

All of us in society were told we needed to isolate in our homes, first to “flatten the curve” and then to “protect the most vulnerable among us.” Well, we are some of the most vulnerable. We are seniors.  Ginger Breggin is 69 years old, Peter Breggin is 84 years old and Ginger’s 93 year old mother Jean lives with us.  We have spent three months literally locked down, with no one in or out of the house until last week. 

Ginger has been cutting Peter’s, Mom’s and her own hair, with mixed results. The ladies have not seen a nail salon since February and in upstate New York, salons still are not open despite the fact our county is hundreds of miles from New York City. Our car needed a jump start last week because it had sat in the garage for so long. We were beginning to feel that way about ourselves. We live in New York State, but we are some of the luckiest seniors — together in our private home with our three dogs and a generous backyard filled with birds and gardens. Tens of thousands of seniors are not this lucky and have been confined to single rooms for months.

Our Governor Cuomo spent a great deal of airtime talking about his love for his mother, and how we all needed to protect our precious seniors.  He then preceded to murder us older folks by the thousands by cramming us into locked down, ill-prepared nursing homes from which there was no escape. 

In a deadly decision, the Governor authorized hospitals to transfer seniors who had COVID-19 into nursing homes and long term care facilities, accompanied by personal protective equipment and body bags!  This resulted in a slaughter of thousands of our most vulnerable and health compromised seniors. Yet one more example of how well-intentioned government interventions can go so badly.

Part of protecting our seniors was to isolate the nursing homes, not allowing any family or friends in, because visitors might expose the nursing home residents to the COVID-19 virus.  This was contrary to every principle of caring for the elderly.  There is no controversy about the best way to help the elderly with their overall health, cognitive and emotional problems, or dementia. Keeping them in close touch with the people who love them while providing maximum autonomy and opportunity for a degree of normal functioning is critical to maintaining the mental and physical function of these fragile humans.  The restrictions imposed by the lockdown on nursing homes was devastating to the morale and the health of the patients, destroying both quality of life and life itself. 

It is time for seniors to be able to look after ourselves again. And it is past time for our society and our economy to open back up.  

As seniors we are deeply concerned about the economic health and wellbeing of this country we love very dearly.  We are heartbroken for the friends and family we know who are unable to work and whose businesses have had to close permanently.  This pandemic is a tragedy first for all those who have lost their lives or lost loved ones, and also for the almost 40 million people who have lost their jobs, as well as the thousands of companies that have been driven out of business by the extended shutdown. 

For the sake of all Americans including our children, our grandchildren, and indeed for ourselves, open up the country again.   Those of us who are getting on in age can take care of ourselves.  We can make our own decisions about continuing to sequester ourselves, or not.  Those of us who need help can have it provided by community resources and the government if necessary.  Meanwhile, let everyone else go about their business and ours—the reviving of their lives and our economy—both of which we want to see them do as we have done before them.   

We understand from decades of experience and witnessing of history, that the old clichés are often repeated because they are so very true. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop has been demonstrated again this past week in the riots that have flared up across America in cities large and small. Protests intended to express grief and horror over the murder of another black man by a policeman have been highjacked by agitators who take advantage of the tragedy and the pent up frustration of our country’s youth.

We all need to be able to rejoin society—to be productive members of a larger whole. This happens when work is available, when businesses are open, when we can go about our lives as contributing adults in our jobs, in our volunteering, in our commerce and in our social circles.

We seniors will make adult decisions about how we need to protect ourselves.  We will probably stay home more, and when we go out, we will practice good hygiene and physical distancing.  We will endeavor not to touch our faces. On occasion we may take some risks, which are our right. Indeed, the world we live in requires us to evaluate risk for ourselves every day and we have had decades practicing this. 

Solitary confinement, which has been the fate of many seniors in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, as well as private homes, is torture.  Seniors in group facilities may decide they don’t want to avoid their families altogether.  They may decide that they want to see the grandkids and other family. The “non-essential services” of physical therapy, of dental work, massage, psychotherapy, exercise classes, and so forth need to recommence.

Some seniors may even decide to go shopping, or share a cup of coffee on the patio at the local restaurant with friends.  

We reserve the right to make our own decisions about how to lead our lives, and how much to risk! 

But even if you want to impose a lockdown upon us elders, requiring us to stay within our homes, please, we beg you, let our children and grandchildren go.  Let our people go! 


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