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Last month my feature was filed by e-mail from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was arranging for future teacher exchanges through Rotary International Clubs of Argentina and the United States http://www.RITE-Teacher.com/. On my last day in that country I was privileged to visit Hogar Israelita Argentino Para Ancianos, an eldercare facility for Jewish elders living in that country. This was done as part of my general education in the field of eldercare and to help me prepare for such visits to similar facilities in the United States.
Dr. Eduardo Alberto Ramognino, son-in-law of my Rotary host family in Villa Urquiza, arranged for my visit after he learned of my interest in eldercare and the Frontier series. He is the chief physician on the staff of this special eldercare facility that must rank as one of the pioneers in eldercare. The institution is located in Burzaco, one of the southern suburbs of Greater Buenos Aires. The drive took us about 45 minutes as we worked our way around the outskirts of Capital Federal on roads under construction, reconstruction and development (isn't it the same in every city?). I had been worried about this extended time together as Eduardo's English and my Spanish are at about the same low level, but we found a great deal to communicate about during that trip. It is amazing how much English/Spanish one can learn in an hour of interactive, purposeful study compared to other methods of learning a language. Hogar Israelita is 20 kilometers past the Buenos Aires International Airport and the surrounding land is still relatively undeveloped and as such is peaceful and uncongested compared to the activity associated with the surrounding metropolis.
Dr. Ramognino checked in at the central office and then immediately took me to the enfermeria where he started making his rounds with patients most in need. Immediately in my mind's eye I was transported back to a time when I accompanied my father on his medical rounds in Kansas City hospitals in the early 1950s. If the mind is young and if you don't catch sight of the physical body, it is possible to be a time traveler. I parked myself on a wooden bench in the main hallway and tried to fathom the interactions taking place between doctors, patients and support personal - all talking in 'mile a minute Spanish'. It wasn't too difficult to do, human needs are universal. As I looked at the dental treatment room, the pharmacy and the examination rooms I certainly recognized some of the medical equipment from the 1950s storage section of my memory.
After the more pressing cases were looked after and directions were given for setting up the rest of the work for the day, we took a quick tour of the immediate grounds on our way to a meeting with Dr. Eduardo V. Bermatov - Director De Servico. Unlike some of the massive single building complexes I have seen in the U.S., this institution is spread out on 16 hectares of woodland with a number of distinct living, service and recreational buildings. We stopped to look at the library, which is maintained by the residents and is filled with books in Spanish, German, French and English. Argentina is a nation of European immigrants and it was certainly evident in the library and the genealogy of the residents.
Dr. Bermatov, an accountant by training, met us in his office and immediately offered coffee/tea and fresh baked bread from the institution kitchen. Our visit was translated by Dr. Jorge J. Yellati, a lawyer that has hopes of taking over from Dr. Bermatov when he moves to Israel in several months. Much of what I said, Dr. Bermatov understood and much of what he said, I caught but Dr. Yellati helped us with the details.
Dr. Bermatov had been at the institution for eight years and had helped stabilize it financially during some pretty tough economic times in Argentina. There are 276 residents living there now (103 men and 173 women) and the capacity of the institution is 320.
Hogar Israelita Argentino Para Ancianos is for members of the Jewish faith. In order to get into the institution the following requirements are taken into consideration:
These are not hard and fast guidelines, Dr. Bermatov cited several exceptions to each. From time to time they have taken in hardship cases that have been brought to them by the local authorities.
At the time of entrance, the new resident gives up all substantial property to the institution (including pension) in return for care until death. Funeral arrangements are made gratis at one of two Jewish cemeteries in the Greater Buenos Aires area. The average stay is between five and seven years and in most cases what property the resident brings to the institution does not cover the cost of care. The balance is made up from contributions of Jewish assistance organizations from within Argentina - often in goods and services.
Residents have also moved into Hogar Israelita Argentina from other South American countries because the reputation of this institution has spread over the years. Over the last eight years, during the tenure of Dr. Bermatov, the population has hovered around the 270/280 level. Building diagrams were arranged on the walls of his office detailing the status of residents. There were residences for men only (Casa Ben Gurion), women (Casa Golda Meir), and a number of mixed facilities (J. Weitman, Ben Tzui and several others) that met special levels of care (physical therapy, nutrition, total care).
Over 170 staff members care for residents and grounds. Seven medical doctors are on the staff (with at least one being on the primacies at all times) and there are seven social directors (one for each housing unit). The enfermeria is for transient treatment only and serious cases are transported to a nearby hospital. After an hour of background information, Dr. Bermatov arranged for a second tour of all facilities lead by one of the social directors and translated by Jorge. They we perfectly willing that I see all aspects of the care and we visited each of the seven residences as well as the "Club", recreation/crafts, temple and kitchens/dining rooms.
I visited with a number of the residents - they showed me their rooms and craft projects, talked about special interests (some in English, much to the surprise of Dr. Ramognino), and reminded me of my parents and grandparents at this stage in life. At 2:00 PM we met Dr. Bermatov at the "Club" and shared a meal (we literally broke bread) with staff and residents. I set next to Paulian Toker, head of the Social Department. She told me of her ten volunteers in training, two recent resident weddings and the choir / 500 guest that would visit the following week.
During the visit, I saw residents engaged in talk and games in small groups, on walks, watching TV, reading, doing handicrafts and assisting with operational chores. The walls of several areas were covered with painting and photographs of recent birthdays and celebrations. It was a most memorable final day during my visit to Argentina.
If you are inclined to help this unique elder community - they could use your donation to: I have set up a WWW site with pictures from a brochure given me along with a beautiful calendario for the year 5756 (1995-1996).
Hogar Israelita Argentino Para Ancianos
Copyright 1996 William Eubank
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