Nowhere better shows the contrast in outcomes for senior citizens with coronavirus than Heritage Community in Kalamazoo and Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater.
KALAMAZOO, MI—The most vulnerable group to the novel coronavirus pandemic are the elderly. Two different places in Michigan show how where a senior citizen with coronavirus lives makes all the difference in their outcomes.
As age goes up, outcomes from the virus grow worse. A study in the Journal of Infection in Developing Countries looked at cases in China and Italy and found staggering disparities around age and underlying medical conditions. In Italy, specifically, more than 80% of deaths were among the elderly. This was back when only one in fifty people were dying from the disease.
Today that number is closer to one in ten.
When discussing their rather shocking outcomes with The ‘Gander, Sinai Grace Medical Center in Detroit cited the number of senior care facilities in its area.
That isn’t surprising. As Heavy notes, older immune systems are much weaker, and the likelihood of an underlying medical condition is higher in older communities. That’s why social distancing is critical in communities that serve the elderly.
With how easily predictable these problems are, preparedness matters. And some places were more prepared for a senior citizen with coronavirus than others.
The Good: Heritage Community
Heritage Community in Kalamazoo might be one of the first senior living facilities in Michigan to adapt to the coronavirus by creating an entire pandemic isolation and treatment ward. Against the coronavirus, seniors are particularly vulnerable.
“Our team has taken the COVID-19 situation seriously from day one,” Jay Prince, Heritage’s CEO, told Second Wave. “We saw what was happening around the country and listened to what was occurring in other states.”
Even though as of last week none of Heritage’s 400 residents had contracted the virus, a 6,330-square-foot portion of its rehabilitation services wing was transformed into a specialized ward to handle anyone diagnosed with the disease.
According to state data, the average age of deaths associated with coronavirus is 75, while the bulk of confirmed cases are Michiganders between 40 and 59.
The average age of Heritage is 84.
This kind of perspective made Heritage take a proactive approach, especially for its more vulnerable residents. Heritage, Prince noted, has residents in all stages of their “healthcare journey”, including those dealing with memory issues and assisted living.
“We had to really proactively think about the best case scenarios to the worst-case scenarios,” Prince said. “Our team really thought about those areas and thought about what that really meant.”
Heritage’s proactive stance makes a lot of sense when looking at outcomes not just across Michigan, but political rhetoric nationwide.
The Bad: Lakeland Correctional Facility
While Heritage has prepared for the worst and so far experienced favorable outcomes, roughly the opposite has been seen at the geiatric prison Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. Almost twenty prisoners there have died from the coronavirus, helping to secure Michigan’s place as the deadliest state for prisoners.
As The ‘Gander noted, prisons make social distancing nearly impossible and so were a tinderbox for the virus. Combine that environment that dramatically increases risk of spread with a population uniquely vulnerable to dying of the virus and you introduce an inferno to that tinderbox. An incarcerated senior citizen with coronavirus faces predictably grim outcomes.
The USA Today talked to family of Lakeland prisoners who encouraged inmates to keep fighting the disease, only to lose the comparatively-younger prisoners.
Debra Matthews was on the phone with her older brother John Thompson as he laid on a ventilator in a hospital bed. Thompson, a prisoner at Lakeland, didn’t survive. He died two days later.
“I was still hopeful,” Matthews said. “I had spoken with one of his doctors, and they were looking for the plasma antibodies for him.”
Lakeland has accounted for about a third of all coronavirus-related deaths in Michigan’s jails and prisons. The facility primarily houses older prisoners and many of its inmates have underlying chronic medical conditions. And the Detroit Free Press reports that Lakeland’s test positivity rate — the percent of the tested population confirmed to have the disease — is almost two-thirds.
“When you have been in prison yourself and almost every single day you read about more incarcerated people dying from COVID-19, it is devastating,” Joshua Hoe, policy analyst for Safe and Just Michigan who was formerly incarcerated, told USA Today.. “None of these people were sentenced to die from this virus and how we choose to respond says a lot about how much worth as a society we place on incarcerated lives.”
More than half of one housing unit at Lakeland that specifically focuses on prisoners over 50 with chronic health conditions, the population most at risk of dying from the pandemic, tested positive.
The Ugly: A “Faustian Bargain” to Save the Economy
But beyond Heritage’s proactive stance and Lakeland’s negative outcomes, there is another piece of the coronavirus harming the elderly, and that comes from national political rhetoric.
The Washington Post called it a sort of “faustian bargain”, where the economy-first, health-second attitude that has pervaded the desire to re-engage the national economy either directly or indirectly offers the lives of elderly Americans as tribute to return to economic activity.
While it often remains an implicit reality of the rush to return to normalcy, it has been explicitly stated by Republicans more than once, most notably Texas’ Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” Patrick told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”
While few have put it so plainly or so starkly, the data shows that elderly people are far more vulnerable to death from the coronavirus, so any second wave would be making that exchange, whether we consciously sign up for it or not. Economic prosperity may be bought with the life of a senior citizen with coronavirus.
And that second wave is almost certainly coming. Leading coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that one is “inevitable” in an interview with CNN.
At least when that wave crashes on Michigan’s shores, Heritage in Kalamazoo will be prepared.
“We want to make sure that our residents know that there is going to be a bed available for them,” Prince said. “The primary goal here is our residents. Our mission. We have to honor our commitment.”