December is a month of celebrations of light and new birth, beginning with Hanukkah and continuing through the winter solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa. It can also be a time of darkness and loneliness, especially for too many older adults.
As the CEO of St. Luke’s Home, I see this every day. For too many of our elders, the results of this collective denial can be deadly. As a finalist in Social Venture Partners’ recent Fast Pitch Tucson competition and one whose entire career has been dedicated to social gerontology, I was proud to take the stage with one clear message about elders: Don’t look away!
According to the U.S. Census, between 1990 and 2020, the number of people in the nation who are 65 to 74 years old will grow 74 percent, while the population under age 65 will increase only 24 percent. Add to this booming elder generation the fact that in Pima County, 46 percent of elders earn less than $30,000 a year. With private assisted-living facilities costing $48,000 on average, nearly half of our elders will not be able to afford that kind of assisted-living care.
St. Luke’s Home is among the few nonprofit options for low-income elders who are not well enough to live alone, not sick enough to qualify for state assistance and not wealthy enough to select one of the many beautiful, private assisted-living options. Our elders pay what they can to live at St. Luke’s, and we depend on individual donors, foundations and the business community to fundraise the rest.
St. Luke’s is a holistic assisted-living community for low-income elders. Holistic means that we offer what every person desires and should have available: natural beauty, mental stimulation, healthy regular meals, people of all ages coming through the doors each day, and regular attention to health and well-being.
Add in our partnership with the University of Arizona on a range of projects aimed at improving elder health and well-being and you have a community that any elder, no matter income level, would be proud to call home.
In a nation where denial and dismissal of elder lives and wisdom are rampant, we are at a point in our history where continuing to look away will be disastrous. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day through 2030, the consequences of looking away are dire.
We are deeply grateful to our many donors who do not look away and make our model possible. But it is not enough!
At St. Luke’s, we spend our time imploring people to take on all the issues related to aging.
Look past the paper-thin, blotchy skin and whitened visages. Go deeper. Listen. Elders have stories to tell and hard-won wisdom to share.
People at St. Luke’s are veterans of our military, teachers, ministers, nurses, artists and social workers. They are your parents and grandparents.
And not too far down the road, they are you and me.
In this season of giving, please don’t look away. Our region urgently needs more communities like St. Luke’s to ensure all of our elders, no matter their income level, have quality housing and care.
Elders deserve to live in communities of respect and dignity, and together we can make sure they have that choice.