Eldercare Voices, COVID Edition: Sherman Pines

Eldercare Voices is an occasional feature of the Center’s monthly newsletter, Health Innovation Highlights, inviting guest commentators directly involved in care delivery or support to older adults to share their perspectives from the field. This post is part of a special series of interviews on their experiences with older adults during the pandemic.

Interview with Sherman Pines, Older Adult; Chair, Rhode Island Integrated Care Initiative Implementation Council


Sherman Pines, a resident of Donovan Manor, a senior living facility in Newport, Rhode Island, retired after working many years for a local social service agency. He quickly became a trusted resource for other residents who needed help navigating their health plans or social service programs. Sherman also is a leader in statewide efforts to improve health care for older adults and people with disabilities. He is the Chairman of the Implementation Council for Rhode Island’s dual eligible demonstration project, the Integrated Care Initiative (ICI). Sherman has worked closely with state officials to involve consumers in oversight of the ICI. He also worked closely with the Rhode Island Organizing Project and the Senior Agenda Coalition on the statewide campaign to reinstate the No Fare Bus Program, as well as efforts to improve Rhode Island’s Non-Emergency Medical Transportation system.


Center: How are you doing during these months of the pandemic? And, how are the other older adults in your building doing?

Sherman Pines: Well, I talk to several people. And I’m just feeling that some of them feel that nobody cares. That nobody is there for them. So, they’re reaching out to whoever they can. They want to talk to somebody, they want to be with their friends, and they can’t do that. And anywhere they go, they feel that they’re being scrutinized...that people are watching them. Because the older people of color go into a business and the first thing they do, they start looking at them like, “do you have the virus? You’re an older person, do you have the virus?” So an older person is a little afraid. And especially people of color.

So, as far as how I feel, I’m very unhappy that I can’t go out and see other people. Because we used to have coffee club every morning in our building, and we used to go and talk, and laugh, and joke, and have a little fun. But they shut down our community room, so that’s been gone for eight months. The only place I went in seven months was to the doctor and I was in the hospital for a week. I didn’t even do my own grocery shopping. My daughters did. Or I ordered from a delivery service. So, it’s been kind of rough. But I’m doing okay with it.

Center: What do you think older adults need most right now?

SP: What they need is somebody that cares about them. Somebody to just call them up and say “hello.” And they would feel better. They can’t go out shopping.  Some of them don’t have kids to do their shopping. They’re relying on Meals on Wheels. They’re relying on United Way. Even a phone conversation goes a long way.

Me, I’m involved in a lot of things, including the ICI Implementation Council. So I’m talking to somebody almost every day, all day. But a lot of these people are not. They don’t have somebody to talk to. Over the summer, the rules were relaxed a little bit, where residents can go outside, smoke their cigarettes. But they have to sit six feet apart, wearing a mask. They want to be able to be close to each other, laugh, joke, and tell each other their stories of what’s going on with them, and how they’re feeling.

Older adults of color need friendship. They need to feel like they belong. They need to feel like somebody cares about them, and is not afraid of them. They need family. A lot of their family are in different states. They need that companionship. I know myself, being a man of color, there are times that I want to talk to somebody. A human. Instead of watching a TV set that’s not going to talk back to me. You know?

Center: What are you learning now that signals the direction for care in the future?

SP: Older adults are not getting enough attention when it comes to health care. They don’t know who to talk to.  Even when I go to my doctor, he doesn’t tell me what I need to know. I can have my temperature taken, and they do the exams, but he never tells me details. Just writes it down on a piece of paper and tells me what my next appointment is going to be.

So the health care of the future, the doctor needs to tell people what’s going on and older people need help finding their way through the system. They don’t know how to contact their insurance company. Especially certain insurance companies like we have here in Rhode Island. You’re supposed to have a case manager. The case manager should be checking on an older person.  We need to let these insurance companies know that you need to contact the client. And ask them, “What can we do for you?” “How’s your health?” “How do you feel today?”  Call them regularly and don’t let them sit at home in their apartment and wonder what’s going on.

Center: What's been most surprising to you about the experience of older adults during this pandemic?

SP: Well, you know, when diseases hit a city, a country, you don’t expect it to be this bad. So I was very surprised and shocked when I heard how it was hitting all these countries. Hitting the United States. A disease that no one would even think about. I lost a cousin to the coronavirus who was gone in just two days. And I have another cousin who has it now. Even when the virus showed up, no one thought of losing their kids, or their mothers, their fathers, their sisters and brothers.

I’ve never seen anything so dangerous in my life. And I’ve been out there for a while, for quite a few years, you know?

And it’s also been a surprise to me that the people that are in charge haven’t taken it more seriously. So, what do I pay my taxes for? For you not to tell me what’s going on in this country?  

Center: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you wish for to improve the lives of older adults (aside from an effective, safe, widely available vaccine)?

SP: Each and every older person to be happy. And they can get up in the morning smiling, laughing, joking, enjoying their lives. That all the illnesses that they have go away. So my wish for everyone is that God takes away everything that bothers them. That is my wish for everyone, actually, but more for the people of my age.

My final thought would be that we become one nation. Instead of being separated. To the point where I don’t like you because I don’t like the way you look. I don’t like the way you live. I don’t like the way you talk. Me being a person of color, and all of these police killings, people killing, people tearing up their own homes, their cities, I pray that it stops.

I grew up in Alabama, where there was racism every day of the week. We have to stop doing this, because we bleed the same blood, same color. There’s no black blood. There’s no white blood. There’s no blue blood, yellow blood. We bleed the same. We need to stop.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.