At the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Diana Wiener, 80, was fed up with the lack of information from her retirement community’s management. Although she had no background in journalism or publishing, Wiener, a resident of the Five Star Premier Residences of Yonkers (Five Star), decided to take matters into her own hands, launching a newsletter titled “The Buzz”.
The management of Five Star began sending weekly email updates at the beginning of the pandemic, but according to Wiener, it contained no substantial information. Plus, a majority of the residents didn’t have an email address. Residents were advised to wear masks and stay six feet apart, but there were no specific details such as what kind of mask to wear, when you should be wearing it and if it should be reused or replaced. It didn’t feel like enough, she said.
Before Wiener officially began The Buzz, she corresponded with the executive director of Five Star to share her belief that residents should be frequently updated about rules and regulations regarding the coronavirus– and where it was spreading in the facility. She also expressed her concern that residents without email addresses were not receiving any of the information that was being shared. Yet in those interactions with management, Wiener felt as if she was being infantilized. Management was leaning on the families of residents to make decisions, rather than the residents themselves.
“The children of the people living in this building don’t want their parents upset,” the executive director said to her in an email.
The choice of management to make decisions based on the children of residents felt demeaning, Wiener said. She was unable to comprehend how management could justify treating their adult residents like children.
“I was just furious,” Wiener told Lilith. “I can’t understand it. We have Bachelors and Masters degrees. There are people paying $5,000 to $8,000 a month here for rent. These people are educated. Retired doctors, lawyers, business people, teachers, educators of every level. But they are referred to as these demented drooling idiots. We’re not.”
This email correspondence was the final straw, causing Wiener to kickstart her newsletter in order to spread truth and information throughout her building. She knew that residents like herself, especially those without access to the internet, had a right to know what was going on in their community and the outside world.
“Let me tell you something,” Wiener said. “My children do not make my decisions. And I certainly don’t expect someone else’s children to be making decisions for me on what I am hearing, what information I’m getting. That’s just totally ridiculous. We’re still making our own decisions. We’re still paying our own bills.”
Since the pandemic has taken a large emotional toll on the elderly, Wiener did not want this newsletter to be solely facts, instead, she wanted it to come to life.
“The Buzz, from the beginning, was always to have voices from the community, creative voices and opinions and so forth,” Wiener shared. “It wasn’t just to inform, it was to bring out the poets in the building, the writers in the building, and the opinions in the building.”
Wiener has found that The Buzz has not only spread information to the residents of Five Star, but it has successfully brought the community together. When she planned to end the newsletter in December, some of her neighbors did a survey to see if The Buzz should continue in 2021. The result was a resounding yes, with 81 out of 86 residents responding saying yes and only two saying no.
The newsletter, which is printed like a magazine, relies on donations to keep running, but this has not been a setback as the support has been overwhelming.
“I would find envelopes stuck onto my door to pay for the printing,” she said. “I’ve had $500 donations and I’ve had $5 donations and everything in between.”
Through The Buzz, Wiener has created a way to spread information in her retirement facility, but she also wants to change the system of retirement care and how society treats elders. Just as people have begun to reconsider how day care works, how school works, and how offices work because of the pandemic, retirement care is an aspect of our social fabric that could use more humane policies.
Wiener, who has become well-versed in the retirement industry as a whole since she began The Buzz, believes that the problem of infantilization begins even with the marketing of communities like hers. She explained that at the moment these facilities are promoted to the children of the elderly, while residents are treated like t-shirts on a shelf, rather than as valuable people.
“That’s the culture of the industry. They are utilizing human beings as dollar signs. We’re still alive, and we’re not going to sit back and say thank you very much,” Wiener said about the unjust practices and principles of the industry, including her 5% rent increase during the pandemic.
Wiener wants to make it clear that this is not just a problem affecting the elderly. It affects everyone. The industry needs to change in order to succeed, she says, believing future generations are not going to accept this treatment.
As Wiener has gained media attention for The Buzz, she has begun hearing from people in communities like hers across the country who are dealing with the same issues of infantilization and lack of information. She urges all of the “big mouths” like herself to begin newsletters in order to stand up to the management in their communities and spread information and joy. While it may not change the culture entirely, Wiener believes that it can make an impact in each individual community.
“That’s the thing,” Wiener said. “There’s nothing more local than local. It’s one building, but there are hundreds of thousands of people living in places like this.”