El PASO, TX – “Once you’re in, if you don’t have enough money, they don’t kick you out,” said , grand daughter of the late Cheryl Marrow, who spent the last 4 years of her life at Nazareth Hall.
“They took really good care of her at Nazareth Hall. She was bed ridden, so they did a lot to keep her stimulated, taking her for walks and always getting her out,” said Stanford. Stanford said it was hard for her to put her grandmother in a home, because she always believed families should take care of each other. Yet when she could no longer provide adequate care for Marrow, she said she was glad to find a place that she knew cared. “I’ve heard a lot of sad stories about abuse in homes, and elderly people not getting the help they need. As hard as it was, I’m glad my Nana never had to go through that.”

Stanford’s concerns reflect an ongoing issue with adult care throughout El Paso. With budgets being cut for many of these services nationwide, and numerous adult care homes being shut down because of neglect and abuse in the last few years, El Paso faces harsh realities and a marred reputation for taking care of their elderly.

“The needs are huge,” said Executive Director of The Rescue Mission of El Paso, Blake Barrow. “A lot of elderly people come into the home, but many don’t. They have their own homes, and we never see them.”

There are several organizations working to improve the care available to the elderly of El Paso, however. Ellen Smyth, Director of Environmental Services, said they teach their drivers to look out for specific signs of potential harm or when elderly person become unable to care for themselves.

“Not only do we have services where we roll your trash out to the curb for you if you unable to do so, but we also teach our drivers to look for things like someone suddenly not having any trash,” said Smyth. If this happens for two consecutive weeks, the drivers call Adult Protective Services to check on them.

Smyth explains that many of her drivers go beyond this protocol however, “The other morning, a driver saw an elderly lady passed out in her driveway. He got out and called 911, covered her up with his jacket, and stayed there until the ambulance arrived,” she continued, “They’re out there, and many have a personal relationship with the seniors they help out.”

Smyth also supports this city council, calling it “pro-senior.” She said there have been many efforts to improve care, including city council lowering property taxes for seniors.

Jaime Rodriguez, Regional Coordinator of Border Affairs, explains that regardless of people noticing abuse or people’s inability to continue to take care of themselves, often times Adult Protective Services actions are limited.

“Abuse is there all the time. Sometimes it’s in the family, but if the elderly person refuses to press charges, there’s nothing we can do,” said Rodriguez. He continued that it is also difficult to place someone in a home who is living on their own, if they refuse the help.

However, he speaks highly of the caseworkers of Adult Protective Services saying, “We have people here who know what they’re doing. They follow up on every case, and they care. It’s their life service,” said Rodriguez. Beyond inter- bureau limitations, Rodriguez says, “The biggest problem is fame-chasers. We don’t know about a case until it’s reported to us, but instead of calling us people call up the media, and it’s blown out of proportion.”

Beyond preventing and improving intervention into abuse cases, and other in-house care issues, actual housing has also become an issue. With Medicaid only paying for 3 prescriptions, and the continual rising cost of health care, many elderly are confronted with the need for cheaper housing, or they face graver options. Julie Flores, the Director of the Housing Authority, says that there are new projects currently underway that make more provisions available to elderly people in need. However, she does admit, “There is a long waiting list, for many elderly people in need of a home.”

Barrow praises the Housing Authority, saying they do a “very good job,” but admits, “Many fall through the cracks.” He said there are numerous elderly people who have had to look to the Rescue Mission as a long term housing answer. “They have been here for years. They will just stay on that waiting list. This has become their permanent housing.”

Why such a long waiting list? Adan Dominguez, the Director of the Area Agency of Aging (AAA), explains, “There are Senior Complexes with the Housing Authority but people are living longer than they used to – fifteen to twenty years longer. So, there are no vacancies.”

Barrow explains that food has also become a crucial issue for the elderly El Paso community. He says that food services are also not reaching everyone who needs meals delivered to them. “You could double the budget for just El Paso county shut – in food service and still not meet all the need. It really comes down to money,” said Barrow.

Dominguez agrees that the money runs out for these delivery meal services before the need does. His organization, which coordinates numerous adult services, looks to private companies, many of them faith based to meet these needs, where government’s funds end. In regard to the lack of funding he says “It saddens me, because I don’t think we’re putting the right value on life.” He continued, “The President has no problem asking for billions for Iraq, and then the Older American Fund is slashed in the U.S.”

Dominguez also worries for those “who suffer in silence.” “Many elderly people have legitimate need, but do not want to be a burden,” said Dominguez. Mia Oberlink, who conducted a study for the Center for Home Care Policy and Research, confirms there are many suffering in ways unrecognizable by the outside world. “14% of people fifty and older admitted to cutting meal sizes or skipping meals due to lack of money,” said Oberlink.

Dominguez also cautions against being too harsh saying, “There have been a lot of improvements in services available in El Paso, and many organizations are working together.” However, he also admits that AAA has “no marketing budget.” According to Oberlink’s study, “37% of people do not even know who to call if they need information about services in their community. 45% of those who did not know who to call were considered to be in poor health.”

“I’m on Medicaid, but it only pays for some of my prescriptions. I don’t know about any other help I can get. I think the city just helps out with health care,” said Rosa Curto, 76. Dominguez says AAA hosts conventions and clinics to educate the elderly on the services available to them, but like Curto, he admits many do not know that they can receive help with “anything from transportation to community activities.”

Both Barrow and Dominguez agree, it comes down to lack of money and community involvement. “Our social mindset is really not where anyone gets involved. Our biggest limitations are the ones we set for ourselves,” said Dominguez.

“Everyone deserves to be taken care of, it’s just sad that so many seniors get neglected or looked past. I don’t know what can be done though…,” said Stanford.