We’re a short five months away from replacing our president. Time to drag ourselves out of the Slough of Despond.
But let’s not “return to normal.” Let’s do better. Fix what needs fixing.
How about protecting the lives of “essential” workers in Washington’s orchards and packing plants and safeguarding the elderly — and those attending them — in our nursing homes?
Their unlucky fate during this pandemic has been to show that economic success in our country routinely relies on abusing the most defenseless.
Fruit workers in Yakima protest that being housed in bunk beds is unsafe despite new state virus safety rules. But state officials gave fruit growers permission to do it anyway.
Why? Because industry sang that old refrain sung by industries everywhere when pressured to clean up their acts. In this unharmonious rendition, providing workers safe housing would wreck Washington’s “$4.5 billion fruit industry, leading to shortages of apples, pears, and cherries and price hikes for consumers,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
God forbid consumers pay the real cost of eating an apple. Or driving a car equipped with seat belts. Or ensuring that babies sleep in pajamas that don’t catch fire. Or, heaven forfend, that producers pay the true costs of production.
A $4.5 billion industry too poor to safely house its “essential” workers? Seriously?
Two-thirds of the jobs in Yakima County are in the food packing and agricultural industries. That county has the highest rate of coronavirus infection of any on the West Coast, 1,000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.
Nearly half of all Washington’s new infections are occurring in Yakima; 64% are among Hispanic/Latino populations, the Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat reports. Some of Yakima’s Latino neighborhood infection rates are 2,300 people per 100,000 — nine times higher than Washington’s overall rate.
Is this really what Washingtonians demand workers endure to bring our crops to market? Hello?
Effects of neglect
Meanwhile, at least 34,000 people living or working in nursing homes have died of COVID-19, according to the New York Times — 37% of the nation’s deaths.
Aside from susceptible patients and regulatory and financial neglect, a reason for this high death rate is that these facilities’ design efficiently spreads infection. Like the bunk beds, that’s fixable. The few eldercare facilities that already had fixed it report next to no coronavirus deaths.
The first outbreak was in a LifeCare Corp. facility in Kirkland, one of its 200-plus nursing homes. Life Care’s history does not inspire consumer confidence.
In 1999 it was forced to return $1.6 million in “inappropriate” Medicare claims after such abuses as forcing occupational therapy on a semi-comatose 84-year-old.
In 2008, continuing a heartless hunt for Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements — the lifeblood of this industry — LifeCare patients permanently consigned to bed or wheelchairs were being dragged out of them and down hallways by therapists so as to document the patients as having been “ambulated,” the Washington Post reports.
A 92-year-old man dying of cancer of the brain and lungs was put through rehabilitation therapy for at least two hours per day, even when spitting up blood. On the day he died, he’d had 35 minutes of physical therapy.
Such inhumane practices cost LifeCare and its founder, Forrest Preston, $145 million in 2016. Evidently it wasn’t enough to change the corporate culture.
Short-staffed with poorly paid, ill-trained workers, LifeCare continued to put patients at risk, even after corona deaths in its facilities. LifeCare in at least 10 facilities egregiously violated standards meant to prevent infections, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In this country and most others, the meaningful oversight, professional training, and wages necessary to make eldercare facilities dependably safe do not exist. Regulators fail to require the inspections, reporting, transparency, and accountability families need to make informed decisions about these facilities.
Prodding with sharper regulatory pitchforks will be necessary if we’re to monitor how well eldercare facilities are protecting people in their care. But we do know this: enough is enough.
Finally, read this next milestone event as the frightful cautionary challenge to our democracy that it is:
Enraged Michigan protestors have been calling for their governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to be beheaded, hanged, and shot for imposing a virus lockdown meant to save their lives.
Some of them, brandishing automatic assault weapons provocatively slung about their necks, menacingly marched into the state’s legislative chambers when legislators were debating the merits of the lockdown. The armed protesters’ unmistakable goal was to intimidate lawmakers with the knowledge that they were making law under threat of armed violence.
In a democracy, this is intolerable.
The worst of it is that, under state law, these protesters legally entered Michigan’s legislature fully armed for military combat.
Or maybe the worst of it is that legislative officials had the right to ban the weapons from the chamber but declined. Instead, the legislature shut down. So an armed mob succeeded in ending deliberations of a lawmaking body.
The idiotic essence of these protestors’ argument is that public health lockdowns contravene their constitutional “freedom” to infect others with a deadly disease. Poppycock.
No such freedom exists, nor ever existed, anywhere. It’s not an argument destined to win applause in any court of law.
But what really should set your hair on fire is that anyone brandishing weapons legally can enter an American legislative chamber and derail the work of the people’s elected representatives.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.