San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Elderly abandonment peaks during holiday season in Costa Rica

Health officials are expecting the rate of elderly abandonment to grow this month. According to Fernando Morales, director of Hospital Blanco Cervantes (one of four geriatric hospitals in all of Latin America), local hospitals generally see a 20 percent increase in cases in December in which families come, leave their disabled grandma or grandpa and take off. Costa Rican public hospitals report a total of 500 cases annually.

“People want to be in peace with liberty to enjoy the festivities,” said Morales in explaining the Christmastime phenomenon. “They see [their elderly] as an obstacle.” 

Morales said the number of reported abandonments has climbed in recent years, as hospital officials have become more vigilant in documenting cases.

If families don’t return to reclaim their relatives, Melba Quesada, director of social work at San José’s Hospital Mexico, said they respond “by knocking on doors.”

“We try to locate their family or neighbors to determine who can best take care of them,” she said. “The best resource is the family, and the last, is typically the institution.”

Quesada said she collaborates with families to draw up solutions in which responsibility is shared, and in which caring for a relative doesn’t fall to just one person.

“Our work is not to punish, but to work with them,” said Quesada, who mentioned that abandonment is can come with a sentence with up to two years in prison.

She said, “People need to understand that hospitals aren’t depositories for their elderly.”

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