Leading aging expert sees boomers creating more caring America
BY BETTY BOOKER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Oct 16, 2006
After hearing Dr. Bill Thomas’ call to put people at the forefront of the medical system, most health-care specialists act like converts to a “moral revolution.”
They leap to their feet, clapping and cheering.
His audiences are predominantly baby boomers, the 78 million “Forever Young” generation that started turning 60 this year.
There’s a dilemma facing boomers, says Thomas: poor quality and unaffordable health care for ordinary people, and top-choice for the few who can afford it.
Thomas, 46, the elder-care guru and author of “What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World,” said in an interview in Richmond last week that he thinks aging itself will propel boomers to correct problems that make them dog-tired now.
“I think what is happening right now is that the implosion of the health-care system and the aging of the baby boomers — and the implosion of the pension system — are creating this perfect storm in American society.”
“My optimistic view is that the aging of America is a very good thing.
“We’re going to see, and I’m working to make this happen, the emergence of an entire generation of elders who are going to seek multigenerational answers. The aging of America is actually going to be a powerful force for reform.”
Thomas and his wife, Jude, are raising their five children on a 258-acre working farm in Sherburne, N.Y., yet they decided he should quit his medical practice two years ago to follow his mentor’s advice “to do the most good you can do.”
This summer, U.S. News & World Report named him one of the nation’s “Best Leaders.”
While it may be difficult for 42 year olds (the youngest boomers) to think of themselves as future elders, aging will come for most.
Maturity is a natural life stage when many people work to make sure following generations survive and thrive, he said.
Because the boomers are such a large generation, they have an opportunity to correct the nation’s downward spiral.
Indeed, his nonsectarian message is that “elders have a duty to be a moral influence.”
Influence isn’t possible, however, if elders believe that older people are just “worn-out adults.”
Elders are needed to get America “back on the road.”
“Back on the road” means creating “a compassionate society that can stand to be judged by how it treats the least of us.”
“You can’t just walk away from your country and your people. Throughout history, it’s been the responsibility of elders to look forward into the future that they will never see.”
Compassionate care is why he was in Richmond.
AARP Virginia, Ukrop’s Pharmacy, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy and Virginia Pharmacists Association brought him here to launch a Ukrop’s medication checkup program and to lecture at a Virginia Health Quality Center workshop.
At Thomas’ lectures at Crowne Plaza on West Broad, the health-care people he told to abandon their authoritarian practices gave him a standing ovation.
“The real way to address the big questions is by helping a whole generation of Americans develop a consciousness of themselves as being important — of having a duty — to the people around them and to future generations. We haven’t been told this.”