An Outbreak of Aging
The HR Doctor just returned
from a visit to The Villages in Central Florida. It is a huge
area that spans multiple counties and cities, and takes the
form of a special district, not unlike the Reedy Creek
Improvement District, which we know by the more popular name
of DisneyWorld. In a sense, visiting The Villages is not
unlike a visit to DisneyWorld.
Imagine tens of thousands of
senior citizens overwhelmingly retired, middle and higher
socio-economic demographics but with little demographic
variety compared to the rest of the universe.
During my brief visit, I was
nearly run down repeatedly by speeding golf carts. The danger
was partly my own fault. I failed to realize initially that
the golf carts at The Villages have their own roadway system
and their own parking areas at shopping centers.
Like visiting London, the
tourist is in grave danger of stepping off the curb while
looking the wrong way. I also noticed a Villages cottage
industry in which golf carts are customized not only in body
style but in paint jobs and logos
reflecting the owners favorite college or sports
Armed with my newly acquired
respect for the potential blunt trauma injury caused by flying
golf carts, I noticed there was also an expected array of
businesses and facilities that catered to senior citizens.
Apparently The Villages is a great place if youre a physician
practicing in specialties such as orthopedics, urology,
cardiology or geriatrics at least if you accept Humanas
Medicare supplement. The place is full of medical facilities,
outlet shopping facilities with great
bargains and restaurants whose prime menu items appear to be
soft food served during extended early bird hours.
The aging of the
baby-boomers such as myself gives rise to retreats like The
Villages as part of a desire, if not a fear or panic, that
drives people to escape from more urban, higher-crime and more
crowded areas to what can be billed as a better and safer
It is true that most of the
facilities of The Villages appear rather new and are certainly
clean. The many golf courses are beautiful, and we noted
dozens of specialty, personal interest clubs open only to
people who show their Villages resident card. It certainly
appears safer than life in many other areas, with expectations
for higher levels of public safety and coverage by multiple
police jurisdictions through contract.
Needless to say, fire-rescue
crews are kept busy not only with the effects of acute health
crises of aging but also with what must be inevitable roll-over accidents involving golf
Despite all the amenities,
the obvious wealth, and the fact that for many thousands of
people The Villages lives up to its billing as a high-end,
high-lifestyle retreat, there were some characteristics that
did not lead the HR Doctor to rush over and put a sizeable
down payment on one of the lovely homes.
A wonderful friend,
colleague, and HR director resigned as the head of The
Villages HR function, noting that he felt it to be something
akin to the Stepford Wives. The lack of diversity in both age
and ethnicity diminished the living experience of the place.
It would be wonderful to see young people, but in a greater
context than simply visiting grandma and grandpa
America is experiencing an
outbreak of aging with all that it means for our public
institutions and our public policies. Not only is there
another episode of the impending Social Security funding
crisis coming soon, but the acute
failure to create a coherent national health care policy will
become increasingly serious and tragic.
Lifestyle issues for
seniors, including social networking, as well as health,
transportation and self-actualization will be far more
important in America when we have coffee together and look
back at the situation in 10 years.
Those with the money and the
information can find a temporary haven in places like The
Villages. They can feel very lucky that they were able to do
so compared to the large majority of their fellow senior
citizens in America and around the world. For most women
over age 65, Social Security is the number one source of
retirement income. The average $1,000 a month payment,
however, hardly enables the lifestyle that most of us would
wish for ourselves or for others.
Government institutions will
not be able to meet the promises made to the aging population
by putting off the day when difficult decisions have to be
made. Likewise, serious problems will not be
solved by making loud noises claiming sympathy and
understanding of the problems but then going on a recess and
hoping to avoid the problems, perhaps until after the current
crop of legislators themselves retire.
The Villages may well
represent a model place to live; however, it may also be a
small, well-protected haven for the few in a society in which
the majority of people face problems realizing their
These problems are not being
fully understood or properly addressed by those we elect and
appoint to be our partners in looking after our futures.
If they were, we would not be displaying the symptoms of short-sighted policy paralysis so