“It’s the thought that counts.”
That’s the sort of thing Grandma says – and as usual, she’s right.
According to Grandma’s metric, the new Cayman Islands Older Persons Policy, recently released by Minister Osbourne Bodden, sends an important message to Cayman’s vulnerable elderly population: You have not been forgotten.
Right now, perhaps the most significant aspect of the 20-year policy is it represents an official acknowledgment of a grave societal illness that has been festering “out of sight” for decades, that is, the neglect of our country’s senior citizens.
This past spring, we at the Compass highlighted the plight of the elderly in the context of budgetary constraints being experienced by Cayman Islands Meals on Wheels, a charity that prepares and delivers hot, nutritious and free lunches to seniors across Grand Cayman. During that time, we sadly found ourselves describing some of the most dreadful living circumstances imaginable on this island, with some seniors relying on their Meals on Wheels volunteer as their sole source of regular human contact, while others, who are even less fortunate and have no access to Meals on Wheels, are forced to exist on a subsistence diet of crackers or even worse.
We were pleased to report that, following the spotlight put on the issue, our lawmakers, notably including Minister Bodden and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, stepped up to the plate (so to speak) and approved a significant funding increase for Meals on Wheels services.
But a single charitable organization can only help to alleviate a narrow set of symptoms of what is a broad underlying condition. Far, far too many of Cayman’s elderly are alone, hungry and vulnerable to abuse.
Is this the best, as a society, that we can do for the generation that created and nurtured the modern Cayman through perspiration, tenacity and ingenuity?
Of course not. Accordingly, Minister Bodden and the architects of the Older Persons Policy have our praise and our support.
We agree with Minister Bodden when he asserts that an unfortunate cultural shift seems to have taken place in Cayman, resulting in less emphasis on respect and care for our seniors. As Minister Bodden says, population growth probably has a lot to do with it – more specifically, the explosion in size and activity that has metamorphized Cayman into a radically different place than it once was.
However, when Minister Bodden refers to “foreign influences,” we would temper and perhaps modify that comment. The “foreign influences” responsible for the growing neglect of Cayman’s elderly aren’t “foreigners” – i.e. the British, Americans, Jamaicans, Filipinos, Cubans or Hondurans; but “phenomena” – such as freedom of movement, materialism, instant global communication, substance abuse and, most consequentially, the breakdown of the nuclear family.
Normally, we would be critical of the time span of any government plan stretched out over a period of 20 years or more. But in regard to ensuring the dignified treatment of our elderly population, the problem is so entrenched that such a sustained effort is absolutely necessary.
Minister Bodden has done well to pick up the mantle on behalf of Cayman’s seniors. Whoever becomes his successors in future governments, it behooves them to carry on this noble cause.
What is at stake is nothing less than Cayman’s dignity – and its legacy.