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Why Do We Only Care If Young People Die?

In a world struck by depressing new realities, one of the most confronting things would have to be the news about the effect of COVID-19 on our elders.

There were the residents of nursing homes in Spain who were abandoned by staff, with many found dead in their beds. And the new guidelines from the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care that outline a shocking, war-style decision facing Italy’s medical workers: "It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care."

In other words, the eldest may be left without treatment to allow younger people to live.

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In the earlier stages of the epidemic it was popularly considered that younger people were not really at risk. This was when the description of COVID-19 as the “boomer remover” popped up online. The joke about the Boomer generation dying was coined on Reddit and spread across social media. As the head of an aged care division (and a Boomer myself) I’m horrified, but not surprised.

The idea that you become less valuable as you get older is not new and it poisons all of us. I would argue it has also played a part in the difficulty of convincing people aged under 55, and especially people in their twenties, that they also need to take precautions against this deadly virus.

In the last week or two there’s been a surge in media articles and social media posts focussing on younger people being infected with COVID-19. This includes the recent cases of two young children, backpackers in Bondi and news that middle-aged people are in intensive care in NSW. Now it’s not just ‘old people’, do we care more?

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Ageism was flagged by the Royal Commission into Aged Care as the primary underlying reason behind the failures of the sector. Its interim report stated that “Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities".

This is starkly demonstrated by where government funding is spent -- $180 per day for our oldest Australians with complex care needs versus at least $1,500 per day for patients in hospital.

Now that our older generations -- our mums and dads and grandparents -- are facing this new threat we need to redouble our effort to ensure they get a fair deal.

Governments must step up now to deliver the standard of care our older people desperately need. That means investing in hospital infrastructure and making sure they have the same access to intensive and specialist health care as everyone else in the community.

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Aged care facilities need equal access to masks and hand sanitiser as hospitals, as well as extra staff to manage quarantines and absences. That means coordinating a surge workforce, including in regional and remote areas, so there are staff on hand when the situation gets worse.

Right now, I have hundreds of people working day and night to keep the residents of our aged care services healthy and also happy.

We’re doing all we can to make sure they stay connected with their loved ones while also staying safe.

We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened in Spain. Our aged care workers, nurses, allied health professionals, cooks and cleaners are the unsung heroes of this crisis. We need more support. We can’t abandon our elders.

And neither should you.

Featured Image: Getty