Because of COVID-19, aging Asian Americans are caught in a troubling predicament. When the government ordered senior centers to close down as a pandemic control mandate, the gaps in providing their care widened alarmingly.
In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 95% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were reported in people aged 50 or older. Their aging immune systems coupled with chronic conditions caused them to succumb to this devastating statistic.
“Most of our seniors live in the epicenter of the pandemic, and [since then] they have become much more isolated. They themselves are worried about their own vulnerability. They’re becoming more anxious and depressed,” shared Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, Executive Director of India Home, a senior center in New York City.
Community centers are a lifeline for many Asian American elders. These institutions provide culturally appropriate meals, physical exercise, mental health check-ups, and recreational activities to look after their wellbeing. During the first few weeks of the lockdown, centers such as Hamilton-Madison House feared over their seniors’ welfare.
“Many of them expressed they won’t have enough meals for more than a week. Not being able to provide those meals was very disheartening for me because that’s something we’ve been doing for more than 20 years now,” shared Isabel Ching, Executive Director of Hamilton-Madison House.
Addressing these concerns inspired care providers to think out of the box and reimagine ways to reach our seniors. “We strived to help our seniors by virtually connecting with them — aided by the telephone, or through video call,” said Dr. Vasundhara.
While the Coronavirus pandemic has driven the most significant increase to the federal budget for senior programs in decades, it is not a guarantee that Asian American groups will benefit from it because they have been historically left behind. Finding ways to care for our aging loved ones has to be a unified effort from all sides.
“Every nonprofit organization is critical. Every senior center is critical. If there is going to be recovery, there’s going to be rebuilding. It’s going to require all of our help,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of Asian American Federation.
The pandemic has forced us to reimagine the way we live our lives. When we sustain the efforts of our senior centers, we can ensure that our Asian American elders are not left behind.