Nitpicking the Elders by Richard Rosenthal

An open letter to Diane Patrizio, director, Department of Human Services, Town of East Hampton.

Re: Disturbing changes in the Suffolk County Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program, or EISEP.

Dear Diane,

As I noted to you in my email of July 5th, your recent one-store-only food shopping order for the town’s EISEP clients requires me to defy my doctor’s orders.

This results from diagnoses over recent years of such old-age-related conditions as a carotid artery blockage, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and low red cell counts, which translates into my need to consume fresh fish and meats. I have not found the fish at our local supermarkets, the I.G.A. and Stop and Shop, to be reliably fresh.

If your home care workers are to shop for me at a nearby location, my fish should be bought at Citarella, and I should continue to rely on the I.G.A. and/or Stop and Shop for basics, many of which are not available at Citarella and are usually much more expensive when they are.

Additionally, I often need sandwiches on hand for occasions when, because of an injured hip and temperamental back, I am unable to prepare my meals. So, over the four years I have had the good fortune to be an EISEP client, the shopper assigned to me has picked up fresh poultry sandwiches from Mary’s Marvelous. The supermarket sandwiches are generally made from processed food, which my physician discourages.

Surely, these health challenges and consequent dietary regimen are not unusual among a client pool made up entirely of senior citizens. But when I tried to inform your social worker who called to inform me of your one-store edict of my diet necessities, she told me that nevertheless town helpers could now food shop at only one location.

If this restriction would actually save money or time, I could see some reason for it. But it does neither. Shopping at the I.G.A. (or Stop and Shop), Mary’s Marvelous, and Citarella is a compact undertaking. Everything is central. For me, it involves driving in one direction in a four-mile circular route from and back to my house. A similar ease of access to the necessary healthy foods exists throughout the town and probably most of Suffolk County. No one is asking you to send your shoppers all over the countryside.

The one-store rule also does nothing to save wage costs. EISEP’s structure precludes this. A worker is assigned to each client for two hours once a week. My shopping list and mail collection have seldom if ever required the two full hours to complete. The remaining time is used to clean my kitchen and bathroom, help that I welcome. But my priority is healthy food. I am grateful to have been getting that.

What difference can it possibly make to your office and EISEP funders how much of the two hours is used for food shopping and mail pickup and how much for other tasks? Am I not, with my 90-plus years on this earth, qualified to make such decisions for myself, especially when it has no meaningful bearing on your employees’ workload or EISEP’s expenses?

I have other questions. Prior to issuing this order, was thought given to findings that healthy diets actually save taxpayer money by reducing demands on emergency medical services? Was thought given to the psychic cost that enforcing such nonsense will have on our young social workers, many of whom entered the field to help make the world a little better? Or to the effect such needless micromanaging will have on your efficient and committed helpers, who take such pleasure in helping us thrive?

Why mess with it, Diane? EISEP is, at root, a lovely, productive program. So, let’s dump this dehumanizing edict.

We survived the Depression, fought great armies in World War II and the younger among us in Vietnam. We also fought for race and gender equality, disabilities access, and peace. We supported families and educated our kids, often by working long hours at grinding hardscrabble jobs. And now, for no good reason that I’ve been told, we are faced with senseless, nitpicking little orders that treat us like irresponsible children.

On a recent Friday at the East Hampton senior center, I had the pleasure of being honored along with other East Hampton 90-plus-year-olds. Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc gave a nice speech in which he extolled our wisdom, leadership, and integrity. During the same week, I got the call from your social worker about the one-stop rule and was blown off when I tried to inform her of my doctor’s inevitable reaction.

So, Diane, what are we old folks? Stalwart members of the community? Or demented old farts to be infantilized?

I look forward to receiving your response.

With best regards, 

Richard Rosenthal

Richard Rosenthal recently celebrated his 92nd birthday.