FEMA allocates over $10 million for island elderly care centers

By John McPhaul

With the purpose of contributing to the well being and health of the elderly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has allocated more than $10 million for 31 permanent repair projects at senior care centers in Puerto Rico, the agency said in a press release.

The funds will serve 24 facilities under municipal administration that are dedicated to the care of the elderly population and another seven that belong to private non-profit entities.

According to the U.S. Census, about 680,000 people aged 65 and older lived in Puerto Rico as of 2019.

“Older adults represent one of the most vulnerable populations during an emergency,” said José Baquero Tirado, the federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “It is imperative to take their needs into account during this historic recovery process.”

Designated Family Secretary Carmen Ana González Magaz, meanwhile, said she is extremely grateful to FEMA and the nonprofit organizations that have always lent a hand to continue working for the welfare of the elderly.

“However, we will continue to evaluate the improvement processes in these long-term care centers to continue ensuring the quality of life of this population,” she said.

An obligation of $500,000 is earmarked for the Celia T. Mondríguez Senior Center in Las Piedras to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

Founded more than 30 years ago, the Mondríguez center has 18 employees, among them nursing and social work professionals, who serve some 110 people.

Marieli Ruiz Lozada, the center’s director, said the work done there is incalculable for the municipality of Las Piedras, as it goes beyond nutritional services.

“We touch the life of that old man who is often lonely,” she said. “In addition, it is a free service and we do not measure the economic side at all when offering the service.”

Las Piedras Mayor Miguel “Micky” López Rivera said the municipality’s priority is to remodel the facilities so that they are suitable for the residents and provide them with a better quality of life.

“Definitely, this will help us to provide them with their accommodations, based on the work that will be done and that they need so much,” the mayor said.

Another entity receiving a funding obligation is Ryder Housing for the Elderly in Humacao, which consists of a building with 96 apartments for 130 residents from various island municipalities.

The allocation for this center, aimed at low-income populations over the age of 62, is around $4 million. The major share of those funds covers improvements to prevent future damage, such as the installation of electrical surge protectors, repairs to fences and anchors for power poles.

“Thanks to FEMA’s support, from the very beginning we could feel that there was hope and that soon our senior citizens would once again have a safe roof over their heads,” said José R. Feliciano, the executive director of Ryder Hospital. “Today we are on our feet and, although we still have a long way to go, we hope the mitigation activities will help us be better prepared and stronger to face any new natural event.”

Likewise, about $1.3 million was obligated to the San Rafael Geriatric Center in Arecibo, a hospice administered by a volunteer board of directors and the Hijas de la Caridad nuns.

The assignment includes $156,000 that will help ensure a safer building by sealing the exterior, especially the roof. In addition, the center received a $20,000 grant channeled through FEMA’s philanthropic branch, which will go toward other repairs.

“The funds earmarked for various senior centers on the island allow us to give greater attention to a sector of our society that requires it so much, particularly during this pandemic,” said Manuel Laboy Rivera, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, commonly known as COR3. “These spaces provide care, as well as attention and companionship, to their residents, and the federal obligation will contribute to a better quality of life for each of them.”

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