Nursing home residents account for more than half of Massachusetts COVID-19 deaths, Governor Charlie Baker announced this week.
Medical ethicist and BPR contributor Art Caplan's own mother succumbed to the disease Monday in a nursing home in Framingham, at the age of 96.
Caplan joined Boston Public Radio on Wednesday to remember his mother, who he said "was active and enjoying life up until a few weeks ago," and offer insight into what he called the "forgotten institutions" of nursing homes.
"I don't think the nursing homes were on anybody's minds," he said. "We were very concerned about ICUs, who gets ventilators, first responders, I could rattle off eight or nine things that governors, politicians, planners were worrying about ... but boy, nursing homes are the forgotten institutions. It's like we farm the elderly out there and just forgot about them in this epidemic."
Older people have been hit hard in general from the virus, constituting many of the hospitalizations across the country and world. As politicians grapple with how to stem the spread of the illness while mitigating economic damage, some have voiced willingness for a grim tradeoff, like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who suggested elderly populations should be willing to die in order to reopen the economy.
As Caplan experienced with his mother — along with families of more than 1,500 nursing home residents in Massachusetts — that suggestion has become a grim reality.
"We did let the elderly go, we didn't protect them in nursing homes," he said.
Earlier this week, the Baker administration announced a new round of funding for nursing homes that requires testing and progress on staffing and infection control.
Art Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Chair, and director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.