Felipe Gonzales, a family man from Queens, NY, faced a very difficult decision. “Putting my mother in a nursing home was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,” he says. “Being raised in Colombia where family is our number one priority when it comes to taking care of older loved ones, at times I feel like a failure,” adds Gonzales.
He is not the only one. As people adapt to the unstable economy, some have to work multiple jobs and can’t provide the care they would like for aging parents.
“With my wife and me taking on full-time jobs to make ends meet and paying part of our oldest daughter’s college tuition, we are rarely home to give my mother the full attention she needs,” says Gonzales.
According to a study from Brown University of 10 large metropolitan cities nationwide, Latinos are entering nursing homes at a growing rate. From 1999 to 2008, the number of elderly Hispanics living in U.S. nursing homes rose by 54.9 percent, while the number of whites decreased by 10 percent. The aging Hispanic/Latino population is expected to grow more rapidly than other ethnic minority group by 2028 and experts say it is growing 3.9 percent per year from 1990 to 2050.
This trend is clear at the Country Villa Wilshire Nursing Home, where over the years, the facility has seen a cultural shift.
“When care is centered around the residents needs, it makes it easier for us as Latinos to trust the care of our mom/dad to trained professionals especially knowing that we are allowed to be as involved as we want to be,” says Fanny Rodriguez, an administrator for the Country Villa Wilshire Nursing Home.
As more Latinos enter nursing homes, more accommodations have to be made. “In the past nursing homes have always had a bad stigma a ‘taboo’ in the Latino culture, it’s something we didn’t dare talk about,” says Rodriguez. “We try to give every resident what we call ‘resident centered care’. For example if a Latino resident prefers to have enchiladas for dinner then we will make every effort to make that happen,” explains Rodriguez. “Several of our staff including myself speak Spanish and we communicate with the resident in Spanish to create a comfortable environment for them.”
Dr. Susan Silverberg Koerner, Director of Graduate Studies Division of Family Studies and Human Development of University of Arizona, agrees that factors such as time and disparities within the family are more salient now than before. Most of the primary caregiving responsibilities often fall on women in the family. “There are more and more women in the workforce compared to decades past and more reasonable out-of-the-home care options than before,” says Dr. Koerner.
According to National Family Caregivers Association, the use of outside care-giving services among Latinos in the past five years has also risen. A survey by Genworth indicates that home care provider services are growing and are becoming a preferred option among families who have the available resources.
Underlying issues such as terminal illnesses among the elderly also play a huge factor in seeking external assistance. Frances Shani Parker, author of “Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes,” has witnessed the evolving change within the Hispanic community over the years. “Diabetes, dementia and other chronic and terminal illnesses in Hispanic communities continue to rise and greatly impact how older adults with these illnesses receive care,” says Parker. She says these terminal illnesses often require 24/7 care, something most families can’t provide on their own.
Gonzales is grateful for all the wonderful people at the home taking care of his mother and says Latino families have had to change with the times.
“Do I believe the family structure within Latino community is changing? I do,” says Gonzales about the future of Latino elderly care. “But this doesn’t lessen one bit the love we have for one another. It’s all out of love. We are simply adapting to our evolving lifestyle the best we can.”