For as long as I can recall, sending a “CARE package” meant you were sending a parcel of food or supplies (toiletries, socks, lotion, shampoo, etc.) to needy people in distant lands, mostly during emergencies. Under the CARE trademark, this humanitarian organization was originally named Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe and adopted as its mission (in 1945) sending food relief to hungry Europeans following World War II.Over time, the organization continued its core activity but revamped its name to the more encompassing Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere. Today, CARE is active in 87 countries and engages in fighting poverty and assisting during emergencies.
The notion of a Care package, however, has taken on a much broader definition, thanks to a handful of County Councils in Great Britain who are looking to decrease their costs of elder care by conducting e-Bay style auctions. This process, according to some resources, has reduced spending about 20%.
It works like this: the councils list their elderly on a bidding website, noting the age, level of care required and medications already being taken. Care firms are invited to submit bids. These care homes bid against each other and contracts are let based on the lowest bid.
Once the auction has closed, the elderly person “wins” a bed at the “winning” facility (apparently without ever having had a chance to view the residence). This, my friends, is the new definition of CARE Package … a wrinkle (if you will) that probably involves plenty of elderly (and thus wrinkled) gentlemen and ladies, whose independence and everyday care has been delegated to a relative – or as these auctions seem to show, to the faceless and nameless bureaucracy.
Naturally, not everyone is pleased with this innovative (dare I call it that?) mode of elder care. But one council spokesman tried to allay concerns, saying “… we only award care packages to providers who are able to demonstrate that they can meet the needs of individuals.”
Several years back, a ten-year-old girl listed her 61-year-old granny on e-Bay. The listing was more out of desire to help her grandmother who had just been brought home from the hospital and needed extra care. Before the auction was interrupted (eBay doesn’t “allow listings” for human beings), granny was fetching more than £20,000!
With costs of elder care rising fast, I’m expecting to see the granny-auction model begin to show up in multiple places, not just a few County Councils in Great Britain.
The way I see it, being elderly – becoming elderly – is a process filled with small, seemingly insignificant losses (in the beginning at least) that become larger everyday until at last there is no area of one’s life over which the elderly person keeps jurisdiction. All of the multiple losses batter one’s personal dignity and will to live.
What bothers me about the CARE package concept for auction and bidding of elderly individuals is how, once again, people are commodified, the product of a transaction. This loss of dignity can only lead to one thing; when the money runs out, the elderly will end up being snuffed out. Or, are we almost there?