Everyone Matters, Reaching Out to Elderly and Vulnerable Members of Our Communities
By Lee S. Schofield, Esq.
Beginning on March 10, 2020 with Executive Order 2020-4, which declared a state of emergency in Michigan and throughout the month of March 2020, Governor Whitmer has issued a series of Executive Orders which have, with gradual swiftness, imposed severe closures and restrictions upon Michigan residents and business. At this point, with the issuance of Order 2020-21 on March 23rd, Michiganders are, subject to limited exceptions, ordered to stay at home and are not allowed to meet with anyone outside of their households. While these restrictions are part of the national and global effort to stem the rate of COVID-19 infections to avoid overwhelming healthcare capacity and to create a breathing space for augmentation of such capacity, aside from enormous economic disruption, the restrictions have resulted, temporarily, in significantly increased personal social isolation for most people. COVID-19 restrictions affect everyone to some degree regardless of age or circumstance and probably uniquely affect those who live alone, in single person households, which is an ever-growing demographic. While most can and almost universally do rely on the myriad modes of digital interconnectedness at our disposal, the temporary enforced isolation caused by COVID-19 should give everyone, including younger folks, a window into the issues surrounding social isolation, which particularly affect the elderly and more vulnerable members of our communities.
It’s worth noting that, according to federal statistics, a much higher percentage of condominium and coop households are single person households, compared to the national average, and condominium residents are much more likely to be either under 35 or over 65. So, from a statistical perspective, thinking about ways to reach out and break down social and generational gaps is of extra importance and relevance in the condo/coop setting. Given the extensive contractual obligations that already exist (Master Deed, Bylaws, etc.) among and between owners and Associations, it behooves condo and coop homeowner to work together. And as we know from annual meeting experience, by their nature, condos and coops work best when people come together.
Compounding the enforced isolation of COVID-19 restrictions is the fact that older and more vulnerable members of the community may feel additionally constrained not to venture out at all at this time due to increased risk of severe illness or death in older age groups. Michigan data alone shows that the average overall age of those deceased is 70. Further older Michiganders may (though hardly universally) be less likely to have as much facility with or desire to engage in online social media or other online modes of remote social interaction, thus further increasing isolation.
Since COVID-19 has, in a sense, made everyone at least temporarily “lonelier”, let’s take this moment of empathy to reflect on how we can strengthen bonds where they are weakening and reach out to our neighbors and community members, especially those who may be more vulnerable. Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 (Section 7.a.8) does specifically provide that Michiganders may leave their homes to care for the elderly, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.
While COVID-19 presents extra challenges to these efforts, we should do things such as:
- Use community email lists, websites, and social media to get out the message that support is available for those who want or need it.
- Seek out those in the community who are willing to volunteer to provide such support, for instance obtaining groceries or medications.
- Take advantage of online resources, non-profits, and religious institutions that may provide ideas, tips, or training on reaching out to vulnerable members of our communities.
- Be aware of those around us that may need assistance.
- Break your own routine to make a friendly telephone call to a neighbor.
- We do not need an excuse to knock on a door.
- Gestures to show community solidarity and support while observing the restrictions of Executive Orders, including social distancing.
- Offer a smile and “how are you” to neighbors you may see when engaging in allowed activities outside your home.
I invite readers to take this time of increased difficulty to reach out to those around them, but particularly to those who may be suffering greater hardship as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Making people understand that they matter and contribute to the community is critical to their self-worth and to their health and well-being. I would like to think that the positive social habits and lessons we can develop at this time of difficulty will be carried forward in our communities and will result in some lasting positive change.
Lee S. Schofield is an associate attorney with the Firm. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature at Brigham Young University in 1996, where he was a Trustee Scholar. He obtained his Juris Doctorate at Michigan State College of Law in 2000, where he was an officer of the MSU chapter of Amnesty International. Prior to joining the Firm in 2005, Mr. Schofield practiced commercial law with a firm in Dearborn, Michigan that had an affiliate relationship with an Anglo-Kuwaiti law firm. Mr. Schofield has handled a diverse range of commercial litigation and transactional matters, including litigation and arbitration in state, federal, and international courts, defense contract negotiation and management, small and medium-sized business and real estate transactions, Islamic finance issues, corporate issues, and trademark registrations and disputes.
Mr. Schofield has extensive experience in condominium law, and enjoys advising condominium boards and membership on the diverse array of legal questions that face condominium associations, housing cooperatives, and HOAs. Mr. Schofield’s practice and experience with the Firm has also included a myriad of commercial litigation, real estate and transactional matters.
Mr. Schofield has numerous outside interests, including literature and literary theory, violin, and cooking. He is also a fitness enthusiast and enjoys keeping in shape through running and other physical activities.