Government officials have been making much of the territory’s “golden gems” during this Senior Citizens Month.
They are right to honour the elderly, and the month’s observance — which so far has included a church service, hikes and other activities — is a good way to do so.
But the new government must also ensure that talk is followed up with badly needed action designed to ensure that Virgin Islands seniors are properly supported during their golden years.
In recent decades, they have gotten the short end of the stick in many ways.
Perhaps the most glaring example is government’s longstanding failure to build a new senior home despite more than 15 years of promises and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent preparing a site at Spooners Estate. Meanwhile, the Adina Donovan Home for the Elderly has been inadequate for the territory’s needs for decades.
Similarly, a long-promised geriatric ward still has not been established at the hospital, and senior programmes across the territory have been cut back — especially after Hurricane Irma destroyed most community centres.
Indeed, Irma and the pandemic that followed in 2020 dramatically exposed the territory’s longstanding neglect of the elderly. As the death rate soared in the months after the 2017 hurricanes, many of the victims were seniors. They were also disproportionately represented among the Covid-19 fatalities.
If a better senior home and other services had been in place to support them during the back-to-back crises, how many deaths could have been prevented?
This month, then, should serve as a time to recommit to supporting the elderly year-round. The ongoing activities are a step in the right direction, as is the newly elected government’s apparent focus on the demographic.
Meanwhile, non-profit organisations like the VI Alzheimer’s Association, the BVI Cancer Society and the BVI Diabetes Association also provide services that benefit many seniors. We hope they will keep up the good work and expand on it.
It is not enough to call the elderly “golden gems” once a year. Comprehensive action is required to ensure their well-being. Given their contributions — which stretch back to a time when VI life was much more difficult in many ways than it is today — the community surely owes them this much.