SENIORS HEAD TO MEXICO FOR CHEAPER NURSING CARE
August 16, 2007
- DESPITE QUALITY CONCERNS, PRICES PROVE APPEALING
Author: Chris Hawley, Republic Mexico City Bureau Estimated printed pages: 8
Richard Slater lives at a nursing home in Mexico, comfortably settled into his
own cottage surrounded by purple bougainvillea and pomegranate trees.
Here, he has plenty of room for his two dogs. He shares a little patio with
three other American residents. He gets 24-hour nursing care and three meals a
day, cooked in a homey kitchen and served in a sun-washed dining room.
For this, Slater pays just $550 a month, less than one-tenth of the going rate
back home in Las Vegas. For an additional $140 a year, he gets complete medical
coverage from the Mexican government, including all his medicine and insulin for
"This would all cost me a fortune in the United States," said Slater, a
65-year-old retired headwaiter. "I'm real happy with the place."
As the tidal wave of baby boomers reaches retirement age and U.S.
health-care costs soar, some seniors are moving into nursing and retirement
homes south of the border, drawn by the low prices, mild climate and
often-friendlier care. Others have discovered in-home health-care services,
which can provide Mexican nurses at a fraction of U.S. prices. Communicating is
rarely a problem in popular retiree enclaves, where there are doctors and nurses
who speak English.
Many of the Americans seeking care are expatriates who retired to Mexico years
ago and are now becoming more frail. Others were brought down by adult children
who live and work in Mexico. And a few, like Slater, are recent transplants who
simply decided they could get more value for their buck at a retirement home
outside the United States.
"You can barely afford to live in the United States anymore," said Harry
Kislevitz, 78, of New York. He moved to a convalescent home on the shore of
Mexico's Lake Chapala two years ago after suffering a stroke.
Not all Mexican homes are so good, residents warn. Retirement homes are
relatively new in Mexico, and there is little government oversight. Some have
gone bankrupt, forcing residents to move.
And some Mexican homes have rough edges, such as peeling paint or frayed sofas,
that would turn off many Americans.
"I don't think they're for everyone," said Thomas Kessler, whose mother suffers
from manic depression and lives at a home in Ajijic. "But basically, they've
kept our family finances from falling off a cliff."
Land of retirees
Experts predict a coming surge for long-term care in Mexico as the first of some
78 million American baby boomers reach retirement age and begin looking for
inexpensive places to live. About 40,000 to 80,000 American retirees live in
Mexico, along with an equal number of Mexican-Americans who have retired to
their home country, said David Warner, a University of Texas public-affairs
professor who has studied the phenomenon.
Meanwhile, U.S. health-care prices are soaring. In 2006, the average rate for a
private room in a nursing home was $206 a day, according to a study by the
MetLife insurance company. At Mexican nursing homes contacted by The Republic,
the rate was $18 to $50 a day.
Jean Douglas decided to make the leap to Mexico three years ago.
At 71, she was getting frail and knew she needed a nursing home. Her knees were
giving out, and the winters in Bandon, Ore., were getting harder to bear alone.
She looked at nursing homes in Oregon but was shocked by the high cost and
So Douglas moved to Lake Chapala, eventually checking into the Casa Nostra, a
nursing home. For $1,300 a month, she gets a studio apartment with kitchenette,
three meals a day, laundry and cleaning service, and 24-hour care.
"It is paradise," she said. "If you need help living or coping, this is the
place to be. I don't know that there is such a thing back (in the United
States), and certainly not for this amount of money."
Slater, the retired headwaiter, came to Lake Chapala four years ago. He loved
the weather and the vibrant retiree community but quickly decided he needed more
help. He has difficulty standing up and walking.
So two years ago, Slater moved into a cottage on the grounds of the Casa de
Ancianos, a non-profit nursing home in the town of Chapala. The cottage has a
living room, bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and walk-in closet.
On a recent day, the prepared lunch consisted of vegetable soup, beet salad,
Spanish rice, baked dogfish stuffed with peppers, garlic bread, and a choice of
four cakes and two Jell-O salads.
Slater has satellite television, so he doesn't miss any American news or
programs. When he wants to see a movie or go shopping downtown, the taxi ride is
$2 to $3.
For medical care, Slater pays $140 a year for membership in the Mexican Social
Security Institute, or IMSS, which runs clinics and hospitals nationwide. He
recently had gallbladder surgery in an IMSS hospital in Guadalajara, and it
didn't cost him anything.
The Casa de Ancianos began taking in foreigners in 2000 to raise extra money,
Director Marlene Dunham said. It built the cottages for them and uses the income
to subsidize the costs of the home's 20 Mexican residents. The program was so
successful that there are plans for 12 more cottages.
Some U.S. experts are concerned about the increasing popularity of Mexican
nursing homes, noting that developing countries are often less diligent about
"It's the same danger you have of going across the border looking for cheap
medications," said Larry Minnix, president of the American Association of Homes
and Services for the Aging.
"If you don't know what you're getting and you're not getting it from people you
trust, then you've got an accident waiting to happen."
Two of eight nursing-home managers interviewed by The Republic said they did not
have state health department licenses. Others said Mexican officials inspect the
homes only once annually, unlike in the United States, where inspectors may
visit a home several times a year.
The U.S. Embassy said it had no record of complaints against Mexican nursing
homes, but some in the Lake Chapala area reported bad experiences at now-defunct
The first home Douglas lived in was staffed by "gossips and thieves," she said.
It went out of business.
Irene Chiara of Los Angeles lived in a home that was shut down by Jalisco state
"It was filthy, and the food was very bad," she said.
Some Mexican managers underestimate the difficulty of running a retirement home.
Two hotels that became assisted-living facilities in the town of San Miguel de
Allende and the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan recently abandoned the business
because of the costs, their managers said.
Americans also face another dilemma when deciding to live abroad: Medicare,
Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and many U.S. insurance companies
will not pay for services outside the United States. Retirees near the border
can commute to U.S. hospitals, but others are effectively cut off from their
Jim May, 74, a resident of the Casa de Ancianos in Chapala, said he recently
decided to move to Texas to be closer to the VA hospitals.
"That's not to say these doctors here aren't good, but they don't have the same
facilities and the technology," May said.
Living in Mexico isn't always easy, residents said. The language barrier can be
daunting and the food very different. Some residents said they miss home and
find it hard to make friends.
"It's a very nice place, but it's lonesome," said Polly Coull, 99, of Seminole,
Fla., a resident at Alicia's Convalescent Nursing Home in Ajijic.
Entrepreneurs are doing their best to prepare for a tide of Americans.
In the Baja Peninsula town of Ensenada, the Residencia Lourdes opened in 2003,
offering care for Alzheimer's and senile-dementia patients. The towns around
Lake Chapala have at least five small retirement homes, most of them opened in
the past five years and house up to 25 foreigners. Villa Hogar in Guadalajara
and ALMA in San Miguel de Allende both began taking in foreigners in 2002.
In-home nursing services have also sprung up.
In Rosarito, Incare provides nursing aides to retirees starting at $8.33 an
hour, less than half the cost in nearby San Diego. The company started two years
ago and has served about 150 clients, owner Marcia Napoli-Tejeda said.
In San Miguel de Allende, At Home Care has placed about 200 nurses in
foreigners' homes since opening in 2003, owner Robin Fell said.Developers of
"independent living" facilities are also looking to Mexico.
Front Porch, a non-profit corporation that runs 41 retirement homes in the
United States, will begin construction in October on Luma, a 400-condo
development for seniors in Puerto Vallarta, said Lee Ratta, senior vice
president for the group's development arm. The development will offer in-home
caregivers as residents get older, she said.
A Spanish-U.S. venture is building Sensara Vallarta, a 250-condo complex in
Puerto Vallarta aimed at Americans 50 and older.
Academics and government officials are beginning to take notice. In March, the
University of Texas held a forum to discuss health care for retirees in Mexico.
Some Mexican officials think caring for America's aged could be a major new
industry. The Tijuana Economic Development Council produced a 120-page study
this year on how to attract Americans to nursing homes south of the border.
The council is now seeking federal funds to provide seed money for more
retirement homes. At its urging, the local campus of Iberoamerican University
launched a gerontology program, and the University of Baja California is
expanding its nursing school.
"We think this could be a very good business as these baby boomers reach
retirement age," said Flavio Olivieri, a council member. "With the right
facilities in place, Mexico could give these people a better quality of life at
a better price than they could find in the United States."
COSTS OF CARE
Nursing homes and in-home health services are a relatively new phenomenon in
Mexico, where most senior citizens live with a family member.
The Republic checked prices at several nursing homes in Lake Chapala, one of the
biggest enclaves of U.S. retirees. It also gathered prices from home health-care
agencies in Baja California, Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara and San Miguel
Cost of a private room at a nursing home
U.S. average: $206 a day
Lake Chapala: $18 to $50 a day
Number of for-profit nursing homes
United States: 9,900
Cost of a home health-care aide
U.S. average: $19 an hour
Mexico: $3 to $9 an hour
Cost of a homemaker/companion
U.S. average: $17 an hour Mexico: $2 to $5 an hour
Sources: MetLife Mature Market Institute; Mexico's National Institute of
Statistics, Geography and Information Processing; U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention; Republic research.
SENIOR CARE IN MEXICO
Nursing homes can be found in any Mexican state by searching for "asilos" at
www.seccionamarilla.com.mx. Telephone calls from the United States must be
preceded by 011-52-.
In addition, here are some businesses that cater to Americans. The Arizona
Republic does not endorse any of these companies.
Manager: Ron Astorga.
Alicia's Convalescent Nursing Home
Manager: Alicia Sandoval.
La Sagrada Familia Nursing Home
Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Mexico.
Manager: Teresa Lopez.
El Paraiso Convalescent Home
Manager: Maria Funes.
Phone : 011-52-376-766-2365
Manager: Diana Salazar.
La Casa Nostra
Manager: Delia Villanueva.
Casa de Ancianos. A.C.
Manager: Marlene Dunham.
Apoyo a los Miguelenses Ancianos (ALMA)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Manager: Oscar Cano.
At Home Care
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Manager: Robin Fell.
Phone: (956) 948-2042 (U.S. number)
Manager: Marcia Napoli-Tejeda.
Phone: (866) 526-4778 (U.S. number) or 011-52-661-613-1251.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com
CAPTION: 1) Catherine Brooks, 81, a resident of the Casa de Ancianos home in
Chapala, Mexico, talks with volunteer Male Perez. Experts predict a coming surge
for long-term care in Mexico as American baby boomers retire. 2) The northern
shore of Lake Chapala in Mexico is home to many Americans, and a number of
nursing and retirement homes are opening to cater to the aging expatriates.
Edition: Final Chaser
Dateline: CHAPALA, Mexico
Copyright (c) The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the
permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: pho173467638
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SENIORS HEAD TO MEXICO FOR CHEAPER NURSING CARE
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