By Steve Moran

On August 29, 2019, the New York Times published an article titled “How Not to Grow Old in America”, by Geeta Anand that leads with this:

“The assisted living industry is booming, by tapping into the fantasy that we can all be self-sufficient until we die.”

First, it is an opinion piece and does not proclaim itself to be a news story, but even so, it is nothing but yellow news . . . it is, in every sense, fake news that should never have appeared in the New York Times.

This kind of journalism should not be allowed by the New York Times, it offers no serious solutions and could do great harm to older people.  

What’s So Wrong . . .

Here is why this is so damaging:

  • The number one threat to older people is isolation and loneliness. The author even addressed the problem in her article. So my big fear is that she will scare people into staying at home in fear of assisted living and will do real substantive damage to older people who would have wonderful lives at home. 
  • Based on the language in the article I am pretty well convinced she has never actually visited an assisted living community.
  • A quote: “Even those that advertise “24-hour” monitoring may have someone present round-the-clock on the premises, but may not have sufficient staff to actually monitor and assist the large number of residents.”

    This is a meaningless fear mongering statement. It would be no different than me saying I know Geeta Anand has a sister who is now caring for her older mother and she may not be safe to care for her mom. It is insulting and true, but also baseless. 
  • ,Another quote:  But when it comes to direct care, the facilities are often lacking. “The way they market everything is, it’s all about autonomy and independence, which are important concepts,” she said. “Families and residents don’t realize that these facilities are not designed to provide more than minimal help and monitoring. Even those that advertise ’24-hour’ monitoring may have someone present round-the-clock on the premises, but may not have sufficient staff to actually monitor and assist the large number of residents.”

    If she is really talking about assisted living she is just dead wrong. Assisted living is primarily about providing needed care. This may be the most ignorant quote in the whole article. 
  • She says . . . “People’s defense against something horrible happening is, ‘Well, they have a right to be independent,’” she said. “‘Yes, he did walk up the stairs with his walker and fall down and die, but he had a right to do that.’ That’s a horrible defense. You don’t just allow people to do unsafe things.”

    Another completely useless quote. Every day we are alive we are exposed to risks and part of the human condition is to manage those risks. We can, for instance completely eliminate fall risk by never letting seniors stand alone. Except it would be a terrible quality of life. The horror she describes is simply a strawman argument. 
  • She completely ignores the many thousands of residential assisted living homes that do an amazing job of serving older people with high care needs and who do not want or cannot take advantage of the extra services and amenities that larger communities provide. 

We need to fight back. We must fight back. This kind of writing is not just ignorant but is immoral in that it has the potential to do real harm to some of the frailest older people.  

Here is my idea . . . send the NYT an email saying they should bring me on as a contributor, someone who will be factual and truthful without whitewashing our challenges. 

Here is the email address:  opinion@nytimes.com