Tuesday, August 21, 2018

“Care” - An Important Film About American Values on Aging and the Workforce Caring ​for a Growing Population

Published in HuffPost
August 30, 2017 – 01:57 pm ET
By Rich Weissman, San Francisco, California (www.richweissman.com)


The documentary “Care,” directed by Deirdre Fishel and produced by Tony Heriza, will have its national television broadcast premiere on AMERICA REFRAMED on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. (check local listings) on WORLD Channel, right after Labor Day. The broadcast will be followed by free streaming at http://worldchannel.org/programs/america-reframed/ starting Sept. 6. The film is a touching drama of four home caregivers, who lovingly care for their clients as they approach life’s end through illness and/or old age. It’s provocative cinema verité showcasing the overworked, undertrained and underpaid home caregivers who nurture the weakest amongst us, in a society that does not recognize their work as important. It’s a brilliantly developed and produced film about the ongoing frustrations in caring for those who have lost their health, youth and independence. The source of the frustration isn’t a lack of empathy on the part of the caregivers, but due to the low value our society places on their contribution.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1900 less than 2% of the U.S. population was over 65. It grew to 4% by 1950. By 1970 it approached 10%, and this doubled to 20% by 2010. The trajectory is expected to continue through 2050, with over 80 million Americans projected to be 65+, twice the number from 2010. The trend is a result of two key factors: declining birth rates as we have fewer children, and greater longevity as we improve mortality rates. Moreover, there are increasingly large numbers of elderly people without families to support them. Although most elderly people want to stay in their homes (90% state homecare as their preference), that option is limited and many are forced to live in institutional care facilities. Add the increasing numbers of people who are ill, but surviving albeit unable to care for themselves, and the trend of needed ongoing care is exacerbated. And, the U.S. is not unique in its aging population statistics. Canada, Europe, China, Japan and others are experiencing the same phenomenon, with booming aged populations.

Yet, the cultural and economic realities presented by this burgeoning population is a topic we in the U.S. prefer to ignore, unwilling to notice the train approaching us personally and as a nation at rapid and crisis speed. “Care” exposes this topic without all the statistics. There are no demographic models presented. Instead, the film simply shows us the realities of living with illness and old age through the eyes of caregivers who provide their clients with the most basic of human needs. And through these caregivers, the story starkly captures the hypocrisy of a society that claims compassion, but is unwilling to value the work that is needed to care for us with compassion when that time arrives. In the film, we come to recognize that the wealthiest society in the history of the world has a clear message to its own citizens: don't get sick and don't get old - we won’t help you if you do.

We idolize the billionaires and the glitterati, while devaluing those who take care of our most basic physical and emotional needs each day when we need them. We spend billions on beauty products, electronics, cars, a military unlike any other, but we are only willing to pay home caregivers a median income of $13,000 annually (Medicaid pays less than $6 per hour) to attend to our parents, spouses, and someday to us personally. The film forces us to ask if the caregivers who attend to our loved ones are not worthy of decent wages? Are the roles they play not as honorable as others in the workforce? We spend more on medications and diagnostic equipment than on those who ultimately take care of the ill and elderly each and every day.

In the end, the film raises important questions. Who are we, and does the American dream and the pursuit of happiness solely apply to the young and healthy, only to be discarded when illness or old age comes upon us? The film engenders both sorrow for and anger at a nation that does not value dignity at all life stages. The film’s message is clear. We have a choice. We can foolishly convince ourselves that we and others will never need such care, or we can face the inevitable and build a society that cares for those in need. We can redefine the role of caregivers, so that they are admired and treated as critical members of the end-of-life cycle which we all will experience in our inescapable future.