An unfortunate and tragic outcome..
These two words seem woefully inadequate. They were used by the Hollywood police chief to describe the recent deaths of eight individuals who lived in a rehab center in Hollywood, Florida. Their names and exact causes of death have not been announced, but the images of frail, vulnerable adults being removed from their residence are dreadful and appalling.
So many words flood my mind: Inexcusable, horrifying, unspeakable, staggering, shocking, sad, heart-wrenching. Truthfully, there are no suitable descriptors.
The most vulnerable were neglected—even in a time of a drastic weather crisis such as Hurricane Irma. The promise to provide care, support and comfort, was broken.
This is a real-life story made public by the rolling cameras of cable news. We are sickened. But every day, vulnerable adults are neglected and abused. It occurs in residences such as the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills; it happens in private homes; it takes place in our neighborhoods.
And, to my despair, the neglect of frail, vulnerable adults transpires in our churches. Oh, we may not carry them out on stretchers from pew to the grave, but we neglect them, send them home to die alone, forget their names, and ignore our covenant to care for, comfort and support them.
This “unfortunate and tragic” incident in Florida is re-igniting a passion in my heart. I have spent most of my career developing programs and systems of care for elders. It was my calling. I remember God using Isaiah 61 to call me to work with vulnerable seniors—to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives…” I worked hard to fulfill that calling in the community and in business, but God impressed upon me to consider the church; it is the institution my husband and I have served for decades. Through the years, I found little to no time and effort were given to vulnerable adults. In fact, as many churches became increasingly trendy and focused on families and young people, the elderly were pointedly ignored. Some pastors even felt their churches were better off without them. I remember when “older” pastors were no longer allowed on stage because their aging faces didn’t represent the new mission.
We can cluck our tongues and point our fingers at the nursing home in Florida (and we should!), but may God use this tragedy to remind us of our obligation to the elders of our communities, churches, and families.
It has certainly broken my heart.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of despair.
P.S. Blessings on those churches and ministries who continue to respect, honor and serve their older adults! May God continue to call all generations to love those who are living a long time.
written by Leona Bergstrom, Director, Re-Ignite
Image by Canstock