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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Centers for the elderly prepare for high hurricane season

Advocate for the Elderly Dr. Carmen Sánchez Salgado

Office of the Advocate for the Elderly receives nearly $2 million in funding for facilities

By Richard Gutiérrez

As the population in Puerto Rico gets older, the need for resources to provide services for the elderly grows at a faster rate, and more funds begin to be distributed directly to the elderly population.

The Office of the Advocate for the Elderly received approval from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) regarding a post-Hurricane Fiona disaster proposal in September 2022.

“A lot of centers needed this help; people need to see the reality that the population here is getting older, and therefore these funds come in handy to combat the upcoming hurricane season,” Advocate for the Elderly Dr. Carmen Sánchez Salgado told the STAR.

The proposal was specifically designed to address the needs of Activity and Multiple Services Centers (CASM by its Spanish initials) after the events of Hurricane Fiona. Some of the initiatives include the installation of solar panels, electrical generators and water reserve tanks, apart from the provision of food items, for the elderly population. During the presentation of the proposal, 10 centers (both municipal and private) were preselected for the installation of solar panels and batteries for energy storage as their main source of energy. Ten other centers were preselected for the installation of electrical generators, another 10 were preselected for installing water reserve tanks and five for the installation of both water reserve tanks and electrical generators. All of the locations were approved by the federal government.

The centers that were pre-selected for water reserve tanks were approved for $1,500 per center, while $33,500 was approved for each center that asked for electrical generators, and $125,000 was approved for each center that was selected for the installation of solar panels. Apart from those locations, the advocate told the Star that “thanks to the funds they were able to give [equipment to] three additional centers that were not mentioned in the preselection process, and eight additional water reserve tanks were purchased.”

The proposal will impact 35 centers that were included in the preselection process, including centers in Ponce, Aguadilla, Culebra, Mayagüez, Cidra, Juncos and Patillas, among many others. Even though there are more than 100 centers from both municipal and private origins, Sánchez said those are the ones that are most in need right now.

“Every year we do a survey where we ask the different centers what their necessities are in terms of anything we can help them with regarding the hurricane season,” the advocate said. “Now that this proposal has opened up, it is a major blessing to the centers that need the most help.”

However, Sánchez said, the centers that are not impacted by the proposal won’t be left behind.

“We have contacts from all centers all over the island and whether it’s through federal funds or additional funds, we always try to help any center that needs help with something, whether it’s that the bus used to bring food gets damaged or if they already have a water reserve tank and it’s not working, we always try to aid them as much as we can,” she said.

When asked about the distribution of funds, Sánchez noted the things they take into consideration.

“Necessities of the center, [and] the center’s quota is also very important,” she said. “Some centers simply have more people than others and some municipalities have multiple centers, therefore everyone’s needs are different.”

Sánchez also stated how it is very important for the office to properly monitor the funds.

“We always monitor the funds with extreme care, making sure that the money is put in the right place,” she said. “Thankfully we haven’t had any issues regarding the distribution of funds in the past and we don’t expect to; the directors at the centers have been very responsible in using the funds provided accordingly.”

Ernesto Ocasio Rivera, director of the Gurabo elderly community center Huellitas de Vida, had some positive things to tell the STAR regarding the funds that are being distributed for the centers.

“The Office of the Advocate for the Elderly has always been highly supportive of us; whenever there are funds available they always respond to us,” he said. “In my experience they have not failed us once.”

Gurabo is one of the municipalities that will be impacted by the proposal as it will have funds for an additional water reserve tank.

“Whenever hurricanes hit, things get out of control, and we never know how much of something we will really need,” Ocasio Rivera said. “Even though we already have a water reserve tank, having an extra one is most necessary because of the unpredictability of events. We may need more water than we originally accounted for.”

“We are very grateful to The Office of the Advocate for the Elderly for providing these funds,” he added. “They are always a helping hand to our facilities.”

The advocate for the elderly said that within the next two weeks the office is expected to distribute the funds.

“In hurricane season, Multiple Service Centers are a great pillar in aid of the elderly population,” Sánchez said. “Their role in hurricane season is crucial for the recovery of the elderly population. Centers are fundamental for the distribution of hot food and other emergency necessities that involve a change in the quality of life of the elderly population. Therefore, we are very pleased that these centers will benefit from these funds.”

However good it is that the proposal was approved, Sánchez noted that there is still a lot of work to be done to assist the elderly.

“The reality is that our population of elders is very large -- people who are 65 years or older make up 27% of the population of the island,” she said. “We have to come to an acceptance as a society that our population is made up of mostly elders, yet somehow a lot of the infrastructure is built for younger people, and not just the infrastructure, the systems in place are not provided in a way that is inclusive for the elderly. There is still a lot of work to be done here; however, at the moment we take what we can get.”

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