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Case Of Abandoned Grandma In Argentina Raises Questions About Elder Care

Relatives of an 84-year-old said they left her at a clinic overnight after medics had refused to even look at a worsening leg infection. Who's responsibility is it?

photo of a woman pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair

Someone must take care of them

It's a case in Argentina that has shined a light on the burdens of elderly care on the poor, and the question of who holds ultimate responsibility: the family or the state.

An 84-year-old woman suffering from dementia was left at a private clinic in San Juan, in western Argentina last Saturday, with a note asking the facility to take her in. The letter, written by her stepdaughter, read, "it pains me, but I can't take care of Ursulina," without help from the PAMI, an Argentine social services agency.

Ursulina was found dehydrated, ill-fed and unable to speak, with an "anxious" temperament and skin lesions. The head of quality control at the Santa Clara clinic, Carlos Fiorentino, told Clarín daily she would be taken to a state facility for medical checks and to be housed.

When a hospital refuses a patient

Police soon found her family, who are not blood relatives. "I lost control of the situation," the step-granddaughter Abigail reportedly told PAMI officials. Marcio Meglioli, head of PAMI, said the granddaughter explained that Ursulina was not technically her grandmother, as she had not married her grandfather, but had helped raise his children and grandchildren over a lifetime.

It's the hospital that abandoned her.

The granddaughter told a local daily, Diario de Cuyo, that caring for Ursulina was costly and the state was not helping. But the final straw that led the family to leave her at the clinic was an infection in her lower back that smelled, suggesting a possible gangrene.

Initially, a hospital refused to see her, she said. "My mother and father took her by cab to a hospital. The nurse was telling us she was fine, to take her home, without even checking her. My mother was saying, 'can't you smell it?'.. she's rotting."

"it's the hospital that abandoned her," the granddaughter said. "Abandonment is keeping her at home and letting her rot to death."

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Migrant Lives

Latin America's Migrants Trying To Reach The U.S.: Risk It All, Fail, Repeat

Searching for a safe home, many Latin American migrants are forced to try, time after time, getting turned away, and then risk everything again.

Photograph of thousands of migrants marching  to the US-Mexican border under the rain.

06 June 2022, Mexico, Tapachula: Thousands of migrants set off north on foot under the rain.

Daniel Diaz/ZUMA
Alejandra Pataro

BUENOS AIRES — With gangsters breathing down his neck, Maynor sold all of his possessions in Honduras, took his wife and three kids aged 11, 8 and 5, and set out northwards. He was leaving home for good, for the third time.

"I had to leave my country several times," he said, "but was deported." He was now trying to enter the U.S. again, but the family had become stuck in Mexico: "Things are really, really bad for us right now."

Migration in Latin America is no longer a linear process, taking migrants from one place to another. It goes in several directions. Certain routes will take you to one country as a stopover to another, but really, it's more a lengthy ordeal than a layover, and the winners are those who can find that receptive, welcoming community offering work and a better life.

The aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls this an international, multidirectional phenomenon that may include recurring trips to and from a home country.

Marisol Quiceno, MSF's Advocacy chief for Latin America, told Clarín that migrants "are constantly looking for opportunities and for food security, dignified work opportunities (and) healthcare access." These are the "minimum basics of survival," she said, adding that people will keep looking if they did not find them the first time around.

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