Senior centers for Panama put on hold

The Ministry of Social Development will not be able to fulfill the promise of creating two centers for the care of the elderly.

Although the Ministry of Social Development (Mides) planned to build two care centers for this population, the projects are far from being realized .

Alcibiades Vásquez, Minister of Social Development, recognizes that this will be one of his "inconclusive works", but he will leave everything ready so that it may become a reality in the next governmental period.

There are two "comprehensive care centers for the elderly". One would be located near the community of Los Lagos, in the province of Colón, and the other on a plot of approximately 2.7 hectares, near the Nicolás Solano Hospital, in the district of La Chorrera, province of Panamá Oeste.

Vásquez explained that the projects could not be executed because neither of the two properties were in Mides’ name, and the Comptroller General of the Republic does not allow works to be carried out in spaces that are not  owned by the institution.

The projects have been devised since 2016, but it was not until July of this year that the transfer of the spaces was achieved, so he decided to include funds for preliminary studies and designs in the 2019 budget.

The head of Social Development did not offer precise details on the construction of the structures and their final cost, but said that the spaces would  enable daily and weekly care.

"The idea is that older adults have space to share, learn new skills, but at the end of the day they  go back to their families," he said.

Data from Mides show that there are 13 shelters in the country for the care of the elderly, and that the spaces can serve a maximum of  1,590 people, which is insufficient.

The reality is that the Mides regularly faces the lack of facilities to locate the elderly who are victims of neglect, abuse  or that their family members can not care for them.

Rita Corella, social worker and in charge of the Center of Orientation and Integral Attention of the Mides says that they receive monthly  about  350 cases of  violation of the rights of these people.

She added that their ages range between 55 and 90 years and more of which  90% of cases are  men.

The official said that at the end of 2017 there were 4,542 cases, of which 873 were exclusively about  abuse.

Abuse cases are increasing. In 2015, 248 cases were reported, in 2016, the figure rose to 450, an increase of 81%  There are no figures for 2017 or 2018.

"These reports show that there is a real problem that urgently needs to be addressed, but it also shows us that there are severe problems in the family," said Corella.

She added that although the problem must be addressed inter-institutionally, "the family is the one that plays the most important role and should give value to their loved ones."

Argénida de Barrios, defender of the rights of the elderly, said that there is no interest on the part of the State to address "the unfavorable situation that this population living in this country."

De Barrios pointed out that the deficiencies in health, competencies, favorable environments and income security are currently severe.

"Older adults are afraid to go to the Social Security Fund. When they retire, they are restricted to continue to be productive and, in addition, many of them are mistreated and abandoned. That is our reality, "said the also former director general of the University of the Work and of the Third Age.

De Barrios criticized the fact that Law No. 36 of August 2016 has not been complied with, which establishes the norm for the integral protection of the rights of the elderly.

Law No. 13 recognizes older adults as subjects of rights, provision of services and social inclusion; creates the Institute for the Elderly and penalizes crimes related to violence against older adults."No importance has been given to the implementation of the law and we are still waiting," he concluded.

For his part, sociologist Marco A. Gandásegui said that the situation that is evident today is the result of several factors that have developed over the past 30 years.

In his opinion, the authorities create laws that do not comply and "encourage policies that go against Panamanians, such as informal employment." In addition, acts of corruption occur that prevent the use of resources for the benefit of the population.

Gandásegui said that the really disturbing thing is that the population in Panama is getting older and the relevant actions are not being taken for their attention.

From their point of view, this is the moment to promote healthy lifestyles, the adequate formation of people, promote formal employment and affiliation to the social security system, among other aspects.

Data from the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic estimate that starting in 2020, the population over 60 years of age will begin to increase, and it is expected to continue increasing until reaching at least 24% of the country’s total population by 2050.