Liza Berger headshot
Liza Berger

A major piece of news broke recently. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19.

Rather, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the U.S. suicide rate jumped by 35% over the past two decades. As part of this troubling package of information, men are more likely to die by suicide than women, people in rural areas are at greater risk than their urban counterparts, the highest suicide rate among women was among those 45 to 64 years old, and among males, the rate was highest for those 75 and older.

If this were any other time, this story would be jumping off the page and shaking us by our collars. But given that we are living in a time when the novel coronavirus is now the deadliest disease in the United States, disproportionately killing older adults, leading to shortages of critical supplies and making face masks the latest fashion statement, we have a few other things on our minds.

Still, the fact that more people are taking their lives is something to reflect on and digest and ask more about. It also begs the question: What will happen to the rate with older adults being hit disproportionately by COVID-19 and unemployment expected to hit 16% by July — the highest since the Great Depression? What about healthcare workers, who, in some cases, are giving their lives to fight this virus? There are no easy answers or solutions.

But here’s what we can and must do: Treat people with more dignity and respect. Near the top of this list are long-term care residents and the employees who work on their behalf.

Heads of both major nursing home associations have called out our country for kicking long-term care when it is already in a weakened state. “We feel like we’ve been forgotten,” Mark Parkinson told CNN last week. He was referring to the fact that long-term care does not have enough medical supplies and testing to handle the outbreak.

Katie Smith Sloan, head of LeadingAge, offered a similar message in a call on Monday. “We’re living in a system within a system that should support us but is failing us,” she said. “So please know that we are advocating consistently for supplies, priority status, relief and a much better understanding of all that you have done, and continue to do to create healthy environments.”

What does it say when the people who arguably are doing some of the toughest work in the country are being forced to do their jobs without the resources to do them? And still not getting proper respect while toiling shorthanded?

Now that’s a story long-term care was used to long before the pandemic.

Liza Berger is Senior Editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.