The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Whatever It Takes to Care for Our Elders

Feb 6, 2023

In a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services, it was revealed that from 2011 to 2019, 8 in 10 nursing home residents on Medicare were being prescribed psychiatric drugs. They include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and anti-psychotic drugs being administered to about a million residents a year.

For the most part, these drugs weren’t being prescribed because these elders had been carefully evaluated and tested to determine that they, in fact, were legitimate candidates for these serious psychotropic medications. Instead, according to nursing home resident advocates, they were being used to sedate difficult patients, particularly those with dementia. They have been referred to as “chemical straitjackets”—a reference to the use of straitjackets to subdue patients, used in what used to be called insane asylums in the 19th century.

For we live in a society where often-times, human services are run as businesses—from nursing homes to day care centers. In this society, profits are to be made on the old and the young—the most vulnerable of populations. And to keep costs down and profits up, facilities can be notoriously understaffed—in the case of nursing homes, where employees are assigned way too many patients to be able to adequately provide the quality care the most vulnerable need. And that’s where the drugs, the “chemical straitjackets”, can come in.

In his State of the Union address last year, President Biden said that federal officials should set “higher standards for nursing homes and make sure your loved ones get the care they deserve and respect.” He said this almost two years into the Covid pandemic where we know that conditions in nursing homes that were already problematic became worse.

Well, federal officials can “set higher standards” all they want. But when the standards are only on paper, this will not change the face of nursing home care, or any other human service field care. True higher standards that include the quality care of our elders—that can even mean multiple, well paid, trained staff for every dementia patient—if that’s what it will take, will only exist when the profit motive is cut out of everything.