In 1977, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of
In 1977, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
While Humphrey may not be the most quotable political figure in American history, he certainly hammered home a resounding truth with this statement.
Much governmental debate is heard about protecting the rights and lives of children – particularly before they are even born into this world. Elderly people, while certainly a vulnerable population at large, still have significant political sway through the ballot box and through their longstanding memberships on influential corporate boards and within legislatures.
However, as Humphrey so accurately described it, our most vulnerable population – the intellectually and developmentally disabled; the physically handicapped; the chronically sick and all of those afflicted with other serious debilitations – reside squarely in the shadows of our bustling society, at the total mercy of decision makers and forces completely out of their control.
This is why – although there is no shortage of causes to be concerned with in today’s world – the ongoing struggles of Rhode Island’s state-run Slater Hospital continues to frustrate and concern us. Comparative to the relatively small number of patients that are left in the care of this system, the amount of scandal, mismanagement and bad news coming from these facilities is striking, and indicative that there is a major lack of leadership spearheading the fight to advocate for the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders.
It has been well documented that Slater has been institutionally kneecapped from improper funding and budgetary cuts as high as almost 20 percent throughout the past decade, just as it has been well documented that the salaries available to the selfless healthcare workers who provide day-to-day care for these individuals are chronically under-represented and underpaid. One private company that trains these workers told the Journal they were “competing with McDonalds,” when it came to salaries.
How much of this is to blame on America’s overall inability to proclaim health care as an unalienable right? How much of the blame can be directed at stagnant minimum wage growth that forces healthcare workers – who are performing a thankless but essential service – to get a second or third job just to make ends meet? How much of this sad situation can be blamed on the ease with which essential services for the handicapped and intellectually disabled is deemed “expendable” when budgets get tight? How much of this problem was created by leaders kicking the can down the road rather than facing it head-on?
At a certain point, the buck has to stop with somebody. A leader intent on making the situation better must assess the current strategy as inefficient or worthy of more investment and time to make it better. And a public that considers itself part of a community that cares for its residents – all of them – must be prepared to pony up the tax revenue that will help alleviate these grievous inequities.
Gov. McKee – who has inherited a once-in-a-century problem more challenging than some governors face in an entire term – will now also bear the weight of system that has finally crumpled due to decades of neglect and financial sabotage. This was not allowed to happen on his watch, but it is now his responsibility to see that something is done to make the situation improve.
We owe it to those who cannot find their way out of the shadows themselves to guide them to the light of a better tomorrow.