Preventive worrying: Celebrate your mother, trust Cassandra


Mother’s Day 2020 was hardly celebratory for elderly mothers, with too many locked in isolation by the statewide shutdown, or in nursing homes that don’t allow visitors.

The Riverdale Press mourns mounting deaths in local nursing homes. The state’s health department estimates that 39 Bronx facilities may have lost at least 850 elderly, not counting those who died after transfer to hospitals.

Some Mother’s Day! Let us stop the Hallmark stuff. Let’s heed wise, motherly pragmatism: “preventive worrying.” Mothers play Cassandra, the soothsayer cursed by Apollo. It’s an ancient “Me Too” tale because Cassandra rejected Apollo’s sexual advances, and he ensured no one would believe her.

After declaring emergency powers, our federal and state political leaders have assumed god-like authority, happy to ignore legislators and ordinary constituents. On the state level, they have slashed Medicaid programs that help elderly mothers age safely.

Consider nursing homes. The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act was toughened by the Obama administration with stricter enforcement, stiffer penalties for poor quality of care, and more inspections.

But last year, the Trump administration reduced fines and relaxed rules requiring nursing homes to keep infection specialists on staff, even part-time.

As a nation, we have a long history of failing to “preventively worry.” A crisis hits. We react. Then we dismantle policies designed to mitigate predictable “next times.”

After 9/11, we passed legislation to help hospitals prepare for future terrorist attacks. Then we forgot. After Katrina, we rallied the nation with preparedness for future hurricanes. We forgot again. When Sandy hit, New York was unprepared.

With MERS and Ebola, Obama created a White House pandemic response team under the National Security Council. Trump let John Bolton disband it.

Over the course of his administration, Trump relaxed environmental protections during COVID-19, even after his EPA reversed nearly 100 environmental rules.

Experts like Michael Osterholm, the World Health Organization, and academic researchers quoted by the American Medical Association, concur with Dr. Anthony Fauci that future COVID-19 waves are “inevitable.” Scientists agree that climate change (and warming oceans) may cause more frequent and more intense storms.

Our inner Cassandra fears double whammies in 2020 and 2021. Multiple resurgences of COVID-19 and storms-of-a-century like Sandy. Our leaders ignore scientific expertise — imperiling us.

When leaders don’t heed scientists’ warnings by preparing for the worst of consequences, Bronx mothers worry. We urge our state legislators to listen to advice, even when it speaks in Cassandra’s voice, against histories of federal and state denial:

• Extend the legislative season to make up for workdays lost because you “paused” Albany (quite properly) while our hospitals were overwhelmed.

• Increase the visibility, influence and budget of the state’s disaster preparedness commission. They think ahead. Their pragmatic warnings could have saved lives and kept our economy from desperation. Advocate for what they recommend.

• Write and pass legislation to provide much-needed jobs for those who have lost jobs and those just starting out: The Green New Deal is a concept that could become a state plan — for tackling climate change and pandemics, while offering our children and grandchildren a chance to remake New York.

• Consider immediate, if incremental, job creation to build momentum and give hope: In public health projects such as contact tracers and virus testing; in education projects such as additional tutoring/coaching for Bronx children who may go months without consistent schooling; in community services like publicizing the census so that the state doesn’t lose more federal money by even worse under-counting.

• Pass the New York Health Act — which will bring access for all essential health care to every New Yorker — because COVID-19 dramatizes a blunt lesson: If some of us are vulnerable to a lethal virus, none of us are safe. Viruses don’t check your insurance status before infecting you and don’t care if you live in a doorman building — or if you’re a doorman.

The Bronx has the highest rate of infection in the city, and a 20 percent higher death rate. We are all at risk because our borough ranks 62 out of 62 counties in the state in terms of health care outcomes. COVID-19 isn’t waiting years for us to figure out a national solution.

New York needs New York Health. We need to lead the nation.

As Richard Gottfried, the Assembly sponsor for New York Health, maintains, “Almost every problem we face in health and health care is made worse, and harder to solve, because of the way we pay for health care.”

• Encourage Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to bring to the floor legislation — proposed and pending — to strengthen both New York state public health, and New York state sustainability, to help us withstand inevitable future waves of COVID-19 and weather disasters.

To save the lives of mothers (and fathers), our children — and their children to come — we need to practice “preventive worrying.” Cassandra’s prophecies — foreseeing death and destruction at unimaginable scale — are never wrong.

Have an opinion? Share your thoughts as a letter to the editor. Make your submission to letters@riverdalepress.com. Please include your full name, phone number (for verification purposes only), and home address (which will not be published).
Barbara Estrin,