French postal workers will be delivering more than Christmas packages and greeting cards this holiday season. A service that began in France in 2017 called Veiller Sur Mes Parents (“Watch Over My Parents”) employs the country’s postal service workers to check on their older customers and report their well-being to family members.
A month of these weekly visits plus an emergency-call button costs about $40.00. The fee is collected by the French postal service. Every day except Sunday, postal workers inform the program’s subscribers, through an app, if their elderly relatives are “well”: if they require assistance with groceries, home repairs, outings, or “other needs.” Since V.S.M.P. was introduced, about six thousand elderly women and fifteen hundred elderly men have been enrolled across the country.
The program is just one of several that have been implemented in order to bring better financial stability to the country’s postal service, where volume is down by nearly 50% from ten years ago, and revenues from postage cannot support the quasi-public postal service. In some places, French postal workers now pick up prescriptions, return library books, and deliver flowers. Last year, only 28% of La Poste’s revenue came from sending mail.
Could this work in the U.S.? About 28 percent of older adults in the United States, or 13.8 million people, live alone, according to a report by the Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like the French postal service, the United States Postal Service is also hemorrhaging financially, reporting nearly $2.3 Billion of losses in the third quarter of 2019 among the backdrop of falling volume. In her third-quarter report, Postmaster General Megan Brennan stated that the Postal Service’s “largely fixed and mandated costs continue to rise at a faster rate than the revenues that can be generated within a constrained business model, which is ill-suited to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Postal Service.”
Why couldn’t postal workers become a front-line force for checking in on isolated and elderly customers along their daily routes? What a tremendous use of under-utilized resources and an added revenue source for the USPS! France seems to have taken a very capitalistic lead on a very social issue; one that will address both the concern families have for their aging loved ones living alone as well as the financial losses experienced by their postal service.
Poll, Z. and Poll, Z. (2019). In France, Elder Care Comes with the Mail. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/in-france-elder-care-comes-with-the-mail [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
National Institute on Aging. (2019). Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks. [online] Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].
About.usps.com. (2019). U.S. Postal Service Reports Third Quarter Fiscal 2019 Results – Newsroom – About.usps.com. [online] Available at: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2019/0809-usps-reports-third-quarter-fiscal-2019-results.htm [Accessed 6 Dec. 2019].