New Trend, New Building: Huatulco’s First Home for the Elderly

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 11.23.58 AMBy Deborah Van Hoewyk

As the first U.S. and Canadian baby boomers age through retirement—those born in 1945 are now 70—Mexico is jumping on the assisted living bandwagon, offering facilities, activities, and medical care at far more affordable rates than in the States, and somewhat more affordable than in Canada, but with way better weather! Puerto Vallarta, Lake Chapala, San Luis Potosí, Mexico City—all boast northern-style assisted living facilities that are marketed north of the border.

Housing Mexico’s Aging Population

Mexico, too, is experiencing the “demographic transition” to an older population. According to a joint study by Centro Fox in Mexico and the Rand Corporation and AARP in the United States, Mexico’s older population is growing quickly (about twice as fast as in the States), life expectancy is also increasing, and as people live longer, they tend to develop more chronic diseases and degenerative disabilities. Moreover, many tend to be less well off, with nearly a third (30%) of Mexicans over 65 living in poverty.

As for access to health care and supportive services, only people who worked in the formal economy are covered by the Instituto Mexicano del Seguridad Social, IMSS)—that means less than half of older Mexicans are covered by IMSS. While several non-contributory pension and health care programs have been in development since 2000, there is still a serious gap in providing supportive care to Mexico’s elderly. And problematic factors in the Mexican economy have changed the structure of Mexican families, curtailing their capacity to care for their elderly members. However, this is not a situation that can be ameliorated with a northern-style assisted living facility. What is happening to help?

Facilities for the elderly are scarce in Mexico, with very few official government programs designed specifically for the elderly. INAPAM (Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores) is best known for providing the senior discount card, and does provide some day centers for the elderly, but it does not provide any kind of comprehensive care for free. Although Mexico’s family agency, DIF (Desarollo Integral de la Familia), does provide care for the elderly, it meets a fraction of the need—fewer than 500 people lived in DIF homes for the elderly (asilos ancianos) in 2010.

Casa Hogar—Mi Querido Viejo

But asilos ancianos are on the rise, usually being built by local nonprofits, or perjaps remittances from abroad. In Huatulco, plans for Casa Hogar—Mi Querido Viejo (roughly translated as Group Home—My Beloved Elder) are well underway. Carolina Gómez Gallego, who founded the Santa Clara Restaurant in 1987 and is known to all as Doña Caro, has started a non-profit to build just such a home in Sector J, on the lot just south of the greenhouse complex on Calle de Alfereros.

At the moment, Doña Caro is waiting for the state government to send the deed to the property, and when the papers arrive, the Mi Querido Viejo organization will start major fundraising and development. So far, they have held several fundraisers that supported clearing the land with help from students from Universidad del Mar, organized a committee of volunteers, and put up signage and a second hand store, which is occasionally open for buying goods listed on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/casahogarmi.queridoviejo); the tienda will be open more regular hours starting some time in January. The next fundraiser is the First Annual Valentine’s Day 5K “Fun Run” (Carrera recreativa—Corre por Amor), which will end with a big fiesta at the building site. To register ($200 mxn in December, $220 mxn in January, and $250 mxn in February), send a message from the Facebook page.

The building itself has been designed by Daniela Orozco Fentani, who grew up in Huatulco; the facility is her the sis for her degree in architecture. It has five modules with a total of 124 suites and studios, an all purpose meeting room, a swimming pool, and green areas and vegetable gardens . Services offered include both a day program and a residential program; activities include classes and work shops ; exercise, dancing, and yoga; and gardening and swimming.

The five modules are laid out at angles across the flat site, creating mini-neighborhoods with privacy and unique patterns of open space. The use of standard forms and inexpensive materials lowers construction costs, thus offering affordability for the future residents of Casa Hogar—Mi Querido Viejo.

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