Socialism and dignity: Seniors are not roadkill

Workers picket at Safire Rehabilitation in Tonawanda, N.Y., where nearly half the staff contracted COVID-19.

Why are so many people in nursing homes dying from the coronavirus? Over 28,000 people across the United States have died in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. 

Nearly 35 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been in these places. In 14 states ― including Connecticut,  Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania ― they have accounted for over half of those who have died.

That’s shocking, since only around 2 percent of the U.S. population live or work there. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.3 million people are living in nursing homes. If you add the figures for skilled nursing and assisted-living facilities, there are maybe 5 million people living in these homes. 

Health care workers in these facilities are also dying. In April, two workers at the Wildwood Health Care facility in Indianapolis died of COVID-19.   

In the Buffalo, N.Y., area, hospital workers union 1199SEIU Vice President Todd Hobler reported that 131 nursing home workers have the coronavirus or its symptoms. At Safire Rehabilitation in Tonawanda, near Buffalo, 18 of the 41 members of 1199SEIU are infected. 

Most of the 700,000 certified nursing assistants caring for patients don’t have a union and earn less than $15 per hour. Without union protection they’re even less likely to have personal protective equipment and more vulnerable to becoming ill.

The coronavirus is more easily transmitted between people in any crowded area, like public transportation or schools. This is especially the case where people are warehoused, as in nursing homes and prisons. 

Capitalists regard the people living there as disposable and a drain on their profits. They want people to work until they drop.

The Economist magazine, a capitalist mouthpiece, demands that the retirement age be raised to 70. American International Group (AIG) CEO Robert Benmosche, whose firm got a $182 billion bailout from the U.S. Treasury Department, wants people to be on the job until they’re 80. 

Socialism and old age

The high death rate among seniors from the coronavirus isn’t inevitable. Nor is it just a case of many elderly people having weakened immune systems and chronic diseases.

Nearly 70 percent of the 15,600 U.S. nursing homes are privately owned and run for profit. Just to stay in business, the owners have to cut corners on safety. Smaller nursing homes don’t have the room to isolate patients with COVID-19.

Publicly owned nursing homes have been hurt by budget cuts. Medicaid, which pays for most nursing home bills, will be slashed before the trillion-dollar Pentagon budget is threatened.

Longevity is incompatible with capitalist profit.

Unlike the capitalist U.S., socialist Cuba celebrates its older folk. Cubans are proud that more than 2,000 people living in the Caribbean country are at least 100 years old.

Even the World Bank admits that average life expectancy in Cuba rose 17 years between 1960 and 2017. This advance was achieved despite the cruel U.S. economic blockade that has made purchasing medicine much more difficult. 

Cuba now has less than 20 new cases of the coronavirus per day. On May 12, the U.S. had 21,475 new cases.

That’s how Cuba’s socialist health care system matches up with capitalist health care in the U.S.

Members of the Young Communist League in Cuba help seniors. Youth learn from the old what life was like before the revolution, when U.S. corporations plundered Cuba.

Around 90 percent of Cuban seniors live with or close to their families. They are not a burden.

Socialist revolutions aim to raise living standards. Even as the Cuban economy is sanctioned by Trump, Cuban people have dignity. They’re proud of Cuban health care workers who are helping people all over the world.

While over 20,000 children are homeless in New York City, there are no homeless children in Cuba. And seniors in Cuba are not considered to be roadkill.

Cuba has what we need: a socialist revolution.