Editor:

I understand, given current economic realities, that budget cuts must be made. Cutting funding for senior services that WISE & Healthy Aging provides to our community, however, would be unjust and unwise. Older people will remain at greater risk to suffer as both a direct result of COVID-19 and the prolonged social isolation and disruption of services that have been a necessary component of our public health response. Senior services will directly save the lives of our most vulnerable while lessening the potentially devastating impact on health systems and keeping our communities safe and healthy.

As a physician specializing in geriatric medicine and a leader in the aging services field, I see directly the horrific impact of the coronavirus pandemic on those I’ve dedicated my career to serving. Behind the staggering statistics of lives lost — something in the order of 80% of whom have been over the age of 65 — are the stories of lives lived, relationships, and experiences that constitute the very fabric of our communities. As if the ravages of the virus itself were not enough, the very measures needed to protect us from infection and spread come bearing their own bounty of collateral damage. The necessity for physical isolation and “social distancing,” compounded by widespread uncertainty and fear, has ignited an underlying social isolation and loneliness epidemic that will also have devastating consequences on health and well-being, particularly for seniors.

Even under normal circumstances, chronic loneliness has been associated with poor health, reduced ability to function independently as we age, and a risk of premature mortality on par with that associated with smoking nearly one pack of cigarettes per day. Now, under our “new abnormal,” researchers are only beginning to quantify the secondary impact this new level of significant, sustained, and widespread isolation will have on physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. But long before these studies will be published, direct experience will make it resoundingly clear that we are engaged in an epic battle on multiple fronts. First-hand accounts from the field speak volumes: the woman who can no longer go to her local senior center for her fitness class and healthy lunch and now may go days without talking to another person, shares how she’s never felt so alone; the gentleman who lovingly cares for his wife, describes how the cognitive destruction of her Alzheimer’s disease accelerates with each day that she is cut off from the daily programs that seemingly sustained her body, mind, and spirit; and there are countless others so dearly paying the price.

While talk of silver-linings these days may be trite and overplayed, there are reasons for hope. For one, there are incredible individuals and organizations that are working tirelessly to meet the needs I’ve described. I’ve long been a proponent of the invaluable role local senior services play in enabling our oldest citizens to thrive while strengthening our overall communities. Now, amidst a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting older people, senior service organizations are adapting, stretching, reaching, in every way they can to provide a critical safety net.

Please, for our seniors, for my patients, for our healthcare workers, and for all fellow Santa Monicans, I implore our City Council to reconsider the 12% reduction in funds that support critical senior services.

Scott A Kaiser, MD, Santa Monica

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