“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick.”
So wrote the great Irish poet Williams Butler Yeats in a poem called “Sailing to Byzantium,” which begins with the famous and famously repurposed line – “That is no country for old men.”
Yeats published the poem 92 years ago in Ireland, having no idea how cruelly those sentiments would be played out across the world during the global pandemic of the respiratory disease Covid-19.
No country beset by the novel coronavirus is safe and comfortable for old men and women.
The aged are proving exceptionally vulnerable to the disease. The disastrous deaths rates among residents of nursing homes everywhere from Italy and Sweden to the United Kingdom and the United States are proof. But generic old folks’ vulnerability isn’t the only cause.
The nursing home industry, in lots of countries, has shown the same pattern of institutional abuses…under-staffing, under-training staff and under-supplying them with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – masks, gowns, gloves, etc.; in many cases, simply prioritizing profits over care – treating aged residents like paltry things, like tattered scarecrows destined for death.
Just as governments, state and national, have scrambled to meet the sudden demands of a global-scale public health emergency, so have their constituent agencies meant to serve the elderly, the addicted, the battered, the needy. How badly the nursing home industry and the state and federal agencies meant to monitor its delivery of services have failed is clear. Official estimates say between a quarter and a third of all Covid-19 deaths in America have occurred among residents and staff of nursing homes. Unofficial, but widespread estimates are that the official number is a severe under-count.
Ed Williams has reported on poverty, public health and the environment in the U.S. and Latin America for digital, print and radio media outlets since 2005. He comes to Searchlight New Mexico by way of KUNM Public Radio in Albuquerque, where he worked as a reporter covering public health. Ed’s work has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, NPR, Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He earned a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010.