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The Bible and the Headlines
By David Bachelor, PhD
There is a distasteful subject making headlines this week. The subject is distasteful because as Americans, and particularly as Texans, we like to think we are rugged individuals who take care of ourselves. To think the day may come where we need someone’s assistance to complete the basic functions of life is the scariest thing we can imagine. The only thing scarier than needing someone to help us is needing someone’s help and that someone is not there. This vacuum is making headlines.
The dearth in caregivers is an international problem. E-news source, The Insider, on January 19th had the headline, “China’s Going to Have to Figure Out How to Care for 400 Million Elderly People By 2040 — More People than the Entire Population of the US.” This article was one of many looking at the ramifications of China’s recent announcement that the nation’s birthrate was below replacement level. While China’s elderly would prefer to spend their sunset years in their own homes, medical conditions may force many into care facilities and, “Those who stay in nursing homes may not be able to get timely and responsive care due to staffing shortages.”
Back in the Land of the Free, the January 22 headline on NBCnews.com was “Small-town Nursing Homes Closing Amid Staffing Crunch.” Citing the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the article says, “From February 2020 to November 2021, the number of workers in nursing homes and other care facilities dropped by 410,000 nationally.” The effect in rural Iowa was, “The lack of open nursing-home beds is marooning some patients in hospitals for weeks while social workers seek placements.”
The January 22nd edition of the Wall Street Journal proclaimed, “High Turnover of Home Caregivers Makes Life Precarious for Many.” This article looked at the situation of elderly adults who want to receive care in their own homes. Citing one widow with ALS whose caregiver cancelled a Saturday visit, “Ms. Barket had one meal to last her until Monday, when the next caregiver was due.” Even with massive incentives to attract workers, “More than 85% of the home care agencies in the 2022 HCP [Home Care Providers] Benchmarking Report turned down cases in 2021 due to the shortage, and 59.7% consistently turned down clients.”
Caring for the elderly comes up frequently in the Bible. Even in ancient times there was a lack of workers in this field. This was a very personal concern for the Apostle Paul. He experienced three workers leaving him for greener pastures (2 Tm 4:10). The book of Philemon is Paul’s letter to the employer (owner) of his caregiver Onesimus. Paul described himself to Philemon, “I am Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon verse 9). Paul wanted to keep his caregiver on a permanent basis but Paul needed the employer’s (Philemon v.14) permission. Paul made this plea, “I wanted to keep him [Onesimus] with me so that he could take your place in helping me” (Philemon v.13). Paul did not like a vacuum in his care either.
Returning to the modern day, and to China, the January 23rd edition of the China Christian Daily asked the question, “How Should the Church React to the Immediate Needs of the Aging Population?” The Church, according to the article’s authors, “needs members who are firm in faith, tolerant, and patient.” These are good screening criteria for the American Church as we respond to the present vacuum of caregivers for our elderly.