I am grateful to Focus on Mexico, where I address the ever-changing topics in Mexico (and elsewhere) of independent living, assisted living, nursing care, Life Plan Communities (CCRC’s – there is only one so far with others being developed).
The next talk to the Focus on Mexico attendees is March 21 at 11:15 a.m. at a hotel in Ajijic, Mexico. See https://www.focusonmexico.com/focus-6-day-program/ Focus on Mexico offers seminars to folks interested in how to move to and/or live in Mexico. All presenters at Focus on Mexico are volunteers.
On Friday, March 29, I will be speaking at a FREE community event (open to the public) at the Lake Chapala Society Sala in Ajijic at Lake Chapala, Mexico at 2:00 p.m. on Why End-of-Life Planning is a Good Idea for Ex-Pats in Mexico.
Here below are links to articles I have written on the above-referenced subjects:
Wendy Jane Carrel, M.A., a Spanish-speaking senior care specialist, has spent over seven years traveling province to province in Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico researching senior living options. She acts as an advisor or liaison for those who wish assistance negotiating health systems, senior care options, end-of-life care, and disposition of remains.
While conducting research on health care and end-of-life options for older adults in Mexico, and volunteering at a Guadalajara palliative care hospital and hospice, I have witnessed both expected and unexpected deaths of Americans, Canadians, other foreigners, and Mexicans. In the case of Mexicans, the procedure following death is almost seamless, with rare exception.
The question is, how will you prepare for such a situation if you are not Mexican?
Here is some of what I’ve learned in expat havens from Alamos to Ajijic, Mazatlan to Merida, and Tijuana to Oaxaca:
If you wish to save your family, other loved ones, and your neighbors considerable grief and time, it is important to understand what is involved when a foreigner dies in Mexico, and, to have a plan in place.
This goes for 18-year olds, 40-year olds, and especially for all persons over age 60.
Even though the subject is one many of us prefer to avoid, family and friends back home, as well as your local neighbors, will be grateful if you plan ahead. Planning ahead might even give you peace of mind!
WHAT TO BE AWARE OF
The system of law is different. If you are from Canada, England, or the U.S., you are accustomed to common law, not civil law based on Napoleonic code. The rules governing disposition of human remains in Mexico are not the same as at home. The time and bureaucratic requirements required to negotiate the Mexican system, post-death, can be daunting.
Mexico is a country with predominantly Catholic traditions. These traditions influence choices. If you are Catholic, the system may seem familiar, such as burial over cremation. If you had chosen to live in Buddhist or Hindu Asia, cremation would be a relatively easy matter involving fewer steps as cremation is common practice. Or, you could have opted for a Tibetan sky burial.
The Mexican culture, language, and way of thinking are unique. Most of all, procedures may be unfamiliar and complex.
PREPARING AHEAD FOR YOUR DEMISE & DISPOSITION OF REMAINS IN MEXICO
The key Mexican legal document you need to acquire for best outcomes is a “declaración jurada ” (more or less the equivalent of a living will) stating burial or cremation wishes. This document must be created before your demise. The declaración jurada will almost always insure your plan is followed. It is usually prepared by notaries (notarios). Current costs are approximately 1000 pesos in Jalisco state, for example. Note: powers of attorney (equally important for pre-death and health care complications), and wills regarding your property are separate documents. Once a year, older adults can receive a 50% discount in the month of September for wills relating to property (home, car, jewelry, and other assets).
Note: Some funeral homes offer notarized Letters of Intention for cremation or burial. This, in addition to your declaración jurada, is a somewhat reliable back-up. These funeral homes will give you a card to carry on your person at all times; the card contains your name and other details plus their contact information. Not all funeral homes offer this service.
Your Advance Health Care Directive or Five Wishes from home is not valid in Mexico even if notarized, apostilled and translated into Spanish unless you get lucky.
You are best off incorporating preferences from your Advance Directive or Five Wishes (https://fivewishes.org/) in your Mexican legal document. Most legal documents for foreigners, unless you live in a rural area, are written in Spanish on one half of the page, and English on the other. Again, this is the most important document you can obtain relating to your end-of-life wishes. Note: there is no guarantee your healthcare requests will be honored by doctors, hospitals, and ambulance services, just as in your home country. Your cremation request will be honored if it is in writing and your papers are presented.
Burial in Mexico
Burial in Mexico could be easier than shipping a casket home and less expensive, with one exception. Many cemeteries offer plots for purchase for a set period of time (usually six years) with the understanding that remains will be removed and buried elsewhere at the end of that period. Arrangements must be made in advance for relocation of remains or they may be removed to a communal grave.
Note: There is less and less room at cemeteries in heavily populated areas. According to some city Pantheon (cemetery) directors, families with plots are burying loved ones 10 persons deep.
The population from Chapala to Jocotopec (north Lake Chapala) just south of Guadalajara, for example, is around 100,000, including 20,000 full-time ex-pats (numbers not exact). There are approximately 80+ deaths per year among the ex-pat community according to Chapala’s Registro Civil, Civil Registry office.
Ajijic Cemetery along Lake Chapala serves a population of 10,000. It is full unless a family will sell you a plot there.
Cremation in Mexico
When death occurs in Mexico, local practices will govern how quickly a cremation can take place. In the state of Jalisco burial or cremation must be within 48 hours, or the body must be embalmed. There is one exception – a body can lie up to 30 days in refrigeration (if refrigeration is available and with permission) awaiting family members from out of country to view the remains. Then cremation or interment will take place. Cost for cremation in Jalisco, for example, is approximately 10,500 Mexican pesos; costs for embalming, around 5,000 Mexican pesos.
In Mexico your legal next-of-kin may request cremation or interment if you do not have a notarized living will with end-of-life wishes. It is unwise, however, to depend on good luck or miracles in this situation – again, best to have a Mexican living will.
Some churches in Mexico offer space for cremated remains in an urn or box in a mini-mausoleum setting. Here again, you are usually paying for a specified number of years.
Note: According to a U.S. Consulate web site, “if the deceased is to be transported between states in Mexico for cremation, the body must be embalmed. If the body is to be transported over 100 km a special transit permit is also required.”
By law, a body is to be identified ahead of time. In Guadalajara, for example, no toe tags are used. Photos are taken of faces before the procedure. The name of the person is also written on a ticket. That ticket, serving as I.D., is inserted into a slot space outside the crematory machine.
Shipment of Remains Outside of Mexico
If you are American and wish your ashes or remains sent home, there is another step for a loved one or trusted advocate to complete after all Mexican death-related documents are obtained. (If you are Canadian, see the links in the Resources section below. Canadian procedures are not the same as American procedures). If your body has been cremated, a cremation certificate from the funeral home, an affidavit from the funeral director, and an original copy of the death certificate must be delivered to the nearest Embassy or Consulate. (See U.S. Government 7 FAM 258 DOCUMENTS TO ACCOMPANY REMAINS; these regulations were last updated January 18, 2013). If you die in a small city or rural area and cremation is your preference, understand the expense, effort, and permissions needed to fulfill this requirement.
According to the U.S. government, a consular officer will prepare a consular mortuary certificate to ensure “orderly shipment of remains and facilitate U.S. Customs clearance.” The certificate will be delivered to you in English and it will contain the essential information including cause of death.
As for shipment of remains in a casket, a U.S. consular officer will work to ensure that the Mexican funeral director and American funeral director are in communication to guarantee preparation of remains complies with local, U.S. Department of State, and federal requirements. All corpses going to the U.S. must be embalmed. The shipping time is approximately seven days.
Also note: DHL, Federal Express, and embassy diplomatic pouches cannot be used to ship cremated remains out of the country. There is no customs fee to ship remains to the U.S. Note: Shipment of remains outside of Mexico involves not only high cost, but red tape. Consider buying repatriation of remains insurance.
Other Details to Consider for Smoother Disposition of Remains in Mexico:
Someone to Act on Your Behalf
Are you living alone? If so, do you have at least three friends or neighbors who will follow through with your wishes and instructions if you die in Mexico? Note: Do not depend on legal next-of-kin (spouse) or significant other to represent you. What if you both die in a car accident or other tragedy? It is best to delegate additional persons or a trusted attorney to take charge.
Do you have a working relationship with a medical doctor who can be called immediately by the designated person or persons to declare cause of death and write the death certificate so an autopsy can be avoided? Do not call 911,an ambulance (Cruz Roja or Cruz Verde), the fire department (bomberos), or the police. Call the doctor, obtain the death certificate (Certificado de Defunción – delivered with three copies), then call the funeral home. The copies of the certificate are then delivered to the local Civil Registry (Registro Civil), the Ministry of Public Health, and INEGI (the National Statistics Office).
In places with a number of expatriates, funeral homes sometimes have doctors who can appear if your doctor is on vacation, but most doctors prefer a relationship with you before they will appear and sign a death certificate. Note: If foul play is suspected, an autopsy will be required and the police and fiscalia (the district attorney’s forensics department) will be involved.
Have you selected a funeral service or transporter to collect your body and handle your remains? Using a funeral service is necessary in most of Mexico, unless you are in a remote, rural village where you may be buried in a local cemetery.
Do you want your organs donated? Mexico City’s UNAM, Programa de Donacion de Cuerpo, for example, will welcome your body for science. Are your wishes written in your living will or indicated on your Mexican driver’s license?
Where to Place Remains. Do you wish your remains to stay in country or shipped home?
Someone to Act on Your Behalf, Part 2
Again, designate at least three people to be in charge of your affairs in Mexico in the immediate aftermath of your death. This is recommended based on witnessing situations in Ecuador and Mexico over a period of seven years, and accompanying distressed family members. Your ex-pat friends may travel quite a bit or may not be present at the time.
Do your designees know which funeral service or transporter will collect your body? Do they know where your legal documents (passport, INM immigration green card, living will – specific for cremation or burial, contact info) are and how to pay the funeral home if not pre-paid? Do they know where to locate your bankcard, cash, and/or documents 24/7? Do they have a copy of your keys? Plan on leaving about 20,000 Mexican pesos or more for the certifying doctor, transportation, the funeral company, Civil Registry fees, and cremation so your friends are not left to raise funds.
Copies of Documents. There must be several copies of critical documents – passport, residence card, living will, death certificate, mortuary certificate, affidavit of Mexican funeral director, transit permit, et altri. The person(s) in charge must be told not to offer an original document to transit people, most bureaucrats, etc. – in most instances these entities receive copies.
Death Certificate (Acta de Defunción)
Who will obtain the Mexican government declaration of death with the appropriate stamps from the Civil Registry and the Ministry of Public Health? This is not only a death certificate but an authorization for burial or cremation. Some Mexican funeral homes have experience assisting with these matters, others not. Will your designees need to do it? Best to find out how to obtain the certificate in the state or province where you live so you can leave instructions. (See Resources section below the article with links to information about death certificates in Mexico).
Register Death with Your Country’s Embassy or Consulate
Who will obtain the proper documents from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, the Canadian Embassy or Consulate, or other foreign government representative in Mexico not only to register the death, but for remains transported home? Some funeral homes are accustomed to offering this service, others not. The embassy or consulate will prepare a Report of Death from the death certificate. Your family member or representative will use this document along with the Mexican documents if or when remains are transported out of Mexico. At the U.S. Consulate you are entitled to 10 to 20 original copies in English.
Spanish language skills are imperative
Depending on English-speaking Mexicans during this process is not advised as they may not be available when you need them. Have someone at the ready who can negotiate procedures in Spanish. There are a number of facilitators, translators, and attorneys who speak English or other languages, best to keep their information handy.
What happens if you die in Mexico, have no spouse, no next-of-kin, no legal documents stating your wishes, and no legal representatives?
Your body will probably be transported to a morgue, usually a SEMEFO (Servicio Médico Forense – Medical Forensic Service) building with refrigeration. Not all SEMEFO buildings have refrigeration or space, even if they have refrigeration. See video links at end of article with tours of SEMEFO in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Sinaloa and the Yucatan. Your country’s representatives will be called. Each country has different procedures for handling such situations. Your body will probably be autopsied. Often, if no one claims your body, your remains will be placed in a communal grave in Mexico. Each state of Mexico and each rural area has different traditions and preferences.
Few people know where they will die or when. If you spend time in Mexico, or any Latin American country with deeply Catholic traditions, where family ties and support reign (i.e. you will be rescued and your loved ones will know what to do), as well as strict codes and preferences that may not be yours, please choose to prepare yourself.
Preparation hint: register your whereabouts and family contact information with your embassy or consulate The U.S. government, for example, has an excellent system for Americans at https://step.state.gov/. It is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and advises you of security risks in the place where you are living and assists with connecting family and others to you in case of emergency. Other places to register your emergency information are located in expat communities around the country. The registries are usually announced in local directories, magazines, English-language newspapers, or found by word-of-mouth. Some non-profit expat organizations provide registries as do churches and synagogues with English-speaking congregations.
End-of-Life Planning is critical for expats.
Create peace of mind for yourself, your loved ones, and your neighbors.
Note: Preparing medical directives for healthcare emergencies, and preparing wills, are subjects worthy of their own long articles and are not included above.
Note two: Physicians, funeral directors, cemetery directors, city and province officials (including a district attorney forensics office), one attorney, one notary, and a consulate were consulted with or interviewed in Mexico for this article.
Note three: If you are alone with no spouse, no children, and no one to rescue you, it is suggested you carry a copy of the funeral home card with contact information on you, plus a copy of key contacts including the notary public. When traveling, also carry a copy of your declaración jurada. If you have a car, it is recommended you keep a copy of your declaración jurada in the glove compartment.
Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, is a Spanish-speaking senior care specialist from California. Over a period of several years she has traveled state to state in Mexico researching senior care options. She volunteers at the only 24/7 palliative care hospital/hospice in Jalisco which also has a community outreach service. She has investigated, studied, and negotiated health systems, senior care options, end-of-life care and planning, and, disposition of remains in Mexico. See http://www.WellnessShepherd.com or contact her at email@example.com .
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https://wdef.com/2018/09/19/morgue-director-fired-over-stench-of-157-corpses-in-truck/ September 2018 article reporting on two tractor trailers filled with unidentified corpses as there is not enough refrigerated space at the morgue in Guadalajara. A report by the English-language Guadalajara Reporter stated that corpses of two unrelated Americans, who died of natural causes, were stored in the tractor trailers, an indication that some stored corpses were identified first, not that it makes being stored in a tractor trailer palpable.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWNr53cWfxk Sinaloa SEMEFO, a report in Spanish about abandoned corpses and no refrigeration 2016, “muerte indigna.” Apparently a new building has been constructed since with refrigeration. Note: in places of extreme humidity and heat with no refrigeration, imagine the stench.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fNXN6XycPA According to the video, “drug dealer” tombs in Sinaloa represent the opposite kind of ending from an abandoned body left at the morgue. The Jardines de Humaya cemetery in Culiacán, Sinaloa, is known for its extravagant mausoleums, not all that dissimilar from the concept of the Mamluk tombs in Cairo Egypt’s City of the Dead (circa 642 AD). The video shows the tomb of Ignacio Coronel that apparently cost millions of pesos or dollars.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-mHof2axB4 According to this 2017 documentary video from Mexico City, if after three weeks no one identifies a body, it will usually end up in a communal grave. In another report, some bodies may go to a medical school for study.
https://tomzap.com/dying.html Dying in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, a 2013 report. At that time it was estimated one needed about 12,000 pesos to pay for cremation, now transportation and cremation will come to around 20,000 pesos, depending on the funeral home.
In the course of one week of August 2018 a fellowship, a Death Cafe, and a talk group at Lake Chapala, Mexico hosted events related to considerations for end-of-life.
These events, intentionally or not, are part of the growing Death Positive movement around the world – places to share, plan, or think about what we want; to consider how we foresee our own passing; and to learn from others who openly share their experiences.
Wikipedia’s explanation of Death Positive:
“The death positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that encourages people to speak openly about death, dying, and corpses. The movement seeks to eliminate silence around death-related topics, decrease anxiety surrounding death, and encourages more diversity in end-of-life care options available to the public.”
Retiree ex-pats ages 50+ from Canada, Germany, the U.S., and the UK gathered at three different venues to hear or participate in interesting, lively, or poignant discussions about mortality.
Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
On a sunny lakeside morning, the fellowship hosted an inspirational, memorable service devoted to End-of-Life.
Sandy Wallin was the service leader. The sermon, “What I Learned from Charlie,” was delivered by Lew Crippen. Hymns related to transitions – I’ll Fly Away ( performed on a recording by the Humbard family), plus One More Step, and Spirit of Life. The postlude was Handel’s The Trumpet Shall Sound.
Crippen’s sharing was an endearing, sometimes funny, but definitely moving tale about how witnessing the dying of his beloved rescue cat taught him more about love and life.
Service poetry included Mending Walls by Robert Frost, and the surprisingly amusing Let Me Die a Young Man’s Death (Roger McGough), beautifully read by Wallin.
Note: The tenets of the Universalist Unitarians have much in common with palliative care and hospice – “to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” plus “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”
A group of American, Canadian, and German retirees and others recently gathered for the third Café Mortality Ajijic in Mexico August 2018. Thirty persons sat in an engaged way at six round tables and one rectangle table (added at the last minute) at Min Wah Restaurant. Conversation was uncommonly lively. Participants included a hospice chaplain (a new café volunteer), a hospice nurse, a hospice volunteer (a new café volunteer), three psychologists, a psychiatrist, one professor, one journalist, and others.
Currently, there are three co-hosts sharing the duties – Debi Buckland, Wendy Jane Carrel, and Loretta Downs, each with 20+ years devoted to some or all aspects of end-of-life care, planning, and transitions. Each Cafe Mortality is introduced by one of the hosts. The August café was heralded by Loretta Downs who flew in from Chicago to lead.
In the last few minutes, a representative from each table stood up to share with attendees interests and concerns discussed – how to die peacefully at home in Mexico, how to take one’s life legally in Mexico, how to die on your own terms in Mexico (have your wishes honored), and what happens in the afterlife.
These all-volunteer social gatherings which discuss death and dying respectfully and informally (no agenda) are now held in 52 countries. See http://deathcafe.com/
A review of the first Death Café Ajijic, held in February 2018, may be found at the following link:
The next Cafe Mortality is scheduled for October 9, 2018. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to attend. Note: the venue may change.
Open Circle Ajijic
David Acuff, PhD, talk show host, and author of 15 books, spoke to over 300 attendees at Open Circle Ajijic on Creation of the Afterlife: Perspectives of Different Cultures. He brought forth views from Native Americans, Australian aborigines, Judeo-Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus about what happens when we die. He interspersed his presentation with audience breaks asking those present to find a partner to ask questions with such as…Where are we going after our demise? As at Café Mortality, the audience was fully engaged with the subject, voices were animated and lively.
In closing, Acuff offered a new view of afterlife suggested from findings at tombs of the Nazca mummies in Peru. Perhaps, he shared, there is evidence we are not alone in the world. According to DNA research in the spring of this year, mummies from 300 A.D. and 1400 A.D. had three fingers on each hand and were not homo sapiens.
Maybe we do go somewhere else, time travel, or reincarnate… all food for thought.
On Saturday, August 19, 2017, social worker/psychotherapist Toni Rahman, originally from Missouri, produced a Pop-Up Clinic to introduce alternative healing practitioners to each other at a Lake Chapala, Mexico refuge.
After a sage “cleansing” and blessing by Toltec shamanic student and host Craig Shanholtzer, nine persons introduced themselves and the work they do. An additional seven friends who support healing solutions came to learn and experience what the nine offer, and, to help get the word out to the community-at-large about resources at the lake.
It was a beautiful day spent on an inviting porch, in a splendid garden, or in quiet rooms either giving or receiving. “Magical”, “relaxing”, “wonderful” are the comments I heard.
Some healing arts folks who were present:
Toni Rahman – psychotherapist, EMDR practitioner, angel card reader, and author of the newly released Being in My Body http://www.ToniRahman.com
Kim Campbell – Canadian massage therapist with training in osteopathy
Doris Diaz – Kundalini yoga instructor, originally from Venezuela and Guadalajara, now a resident at the lake
Dara Eden – Usui Reiki Master Teacher/Intuitive Energy Healer, originally from California via one year in Vilcabamba, Ecuador www.InnerChiMastery.com
Mahadevi – Thai massage therapist, ayurvedic consultations, from Colombia
Aracely Marquez – Mexican SCIO therapist (could not attend but will attend future Pop-Up Clinics)
Sophia Rose – holistic therapist and coach, intuitive consultant, clinical hypnotherapist, and EFT practitioner from San Diego www.catalystresource.com
Cynthia Rothchild – tantra teacher, watsu therapist, cosmic breathing teacher originally from Ohio www.cincoelementosajijic.com
Earl Schenck, hands on healing and IET (Integrated Energy Therapy) practitioner for over 20 years
The next Lake Chapala Pop-Up Healing Clinic is scheduled for Saturday, September 23. The time and place will be announced on bulletin boards and in periodicals around Lake Chapala as well as on the sana-clinica.com web site sited below.
For more photos from the event click on this link:
Not long ago I addressed a group of Canadians and Americans at an Open Circle chat at the Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic, Mexico. Most of the attendees were full-time residents with the lay of the land, but curious newcomers attended as well.
The most meaningful part of the presentation? Introducing American and Mexican senior living owners to the audience. After the chat they were able to become acquainted with one another.
In the photo below, four Mexican registered nurse owners are represented. I am the person holding the microphone.
If you cannot afford healthcare or retirement in Canada or the U.S., what are your options? Where do you look?
For the last five decades, and especially since the U.S. economic challenges that became apparent in 2007-2008, retirees have been choosing destinations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Despite news about crime and drug cartels, Mexico reigns as the number one choice for most American and Canadians, primarily because of its lower costs, warmer weather, health care choices, and location so close to home.
According to U.S. Consulates in Mexico there is a current count of between 1.2 – 1.4 million Americans living in Baja California, Cancun, Lake Chapala, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel Allende, and other areas. (The number also includes Americans who are not retired). According to the Canadian Consulate in Guadalajara and the Canadians Abroad Registry, approximately 10,000 Canadians are registered in high season and 1,500 are registered as retired full time in Mexico. Not all Canadians register.
Choices for senior living in Mexico are not all that dissimilar to those in Canada and the U.S.:
Aging in Place – independent living in your own home or apartment
Aging in Community – co-housing
Assisted Living – if you require care and cannot afford full-time care at home
Nursing Care and Rehabilitation
Currently, at Lake Chapala, Mexico there are in the neighborhood of 20,000 retired Americans and Canadians.
North shore Lake Chapala, which includes the communities of Ajijic, Chapala, Jocotepec, San Antonio, and San Juan Cosala (40 minutes drive time from one end of north shore to the other), has several options for senior living with others being planned.
What is different from Canada and the U.S. is the cost of living, especially for health care, often up to two-thirds less.
What is also different is that there are no Life Planning (continuing care) models at Lake Chapala. A project was planned three years ago and has yet to be built. There is one, however, that will open in Mexico City sometime this fall.
Another difference is that in Canada and the U.S. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are in separate areas on a campus. In most of Mexico, dementia patients are living and sharing the same space with older adults who have mobility issues, not dementia issues, and the care is rarely specialized.
Mexican senior homes are under the purview of the Ministry of Public Health and local fire departments. They are not tightly regulated and inspected as they are in Canada and the U.S.
What is available at Lake Chapala now?
Three co-housing/independent living options – one in Ajijic with three individual apartments and five casitas, a pool, lakeside views, and two meals a day; one in Riberas del Pilar on two levels where residents have their own apartment, are provided with two meals a day, and have access to a library, a gym, and a pool; and one in San Juan Cosala, focusing on health, green living, and sustainability.
At the first two if you become immobile or develop serious health issues you would need to move. At the property in San Juan Cosala (in development) you can invite caregivers to your living quarters.
Three assisted living homes specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia care – one is run by a geriatrician and a nurse, the other two by nurses with doctors on call. One of these homes plans to add a second home in the near future for a total of four dedicated Alzheimer’s care homes at the lake to meet the growing need.
Six homes combine assisted living, nursing and some rehabilitation.
That number climbs to seven if you include two rooms above the offices of a physician in Ajijic (no rehab), and 9 if you include one owner who has three homes (no rehab).
It climbs to 10 choices with an American-owned recovery care center for plastic surgery (more like a B & B) where you can also rent suites. The recovery center has been in existence for almost 20 years.
The total number of choices reaches 11 if you include a low-income senior home in Chapala which also has Mexican residents.
Four properties have owners who live on site. These properties are either American- or Canadian-owned, or, owned by English-speaking Mexicans who focus on serving the expat community. There usually is one person who speaks English at the senior living options at Lake Chapala.
The above-mentioned places are private pay. Monthly costs for private pay assisted living at Lake Chapala range between $1,000 and $2,000 U.S. per month except for the home in Chapala. (The average U.S. private pay is $3200-$3500, and up to $12,000/month or more for Alzheimer’s care).
Most care homes at the lake have 12 or fewer residents. Service is considered personalized. In many instances there is the quality of “carino,” caregivers treating you like a lovable member of the family.
There are 125 senior living homes in the state of Jalisco, housing 1,723 elders. These numbers include only Mexican citizens. Not included are Americans and Canadians at Lake Chapala or in Puerto Vallarta. There are approximately 758,000 older adults in Jalisco state.
In Guadalajara, an hour from Lake Chapala, there are three models of senior care – private pay, non-profit care primarily with nuns (usually excellent quality), and government care (usually DIF, a social services entity that exists throughout Mexico). Prices range from gratis for the indigent to around $400-$800 U.S. for those with pensions, and up to $3500 U.S. for private pay.
Note: I have met Americans with incomes of $600 or less/month who are living comfortably and safely in Mexican assisted living homes throughout the country.
Dra Susana Lua Nava, a palliative care physician based in Guadalajara, Mexico, spoke to over 200 North Americans and locals at Open Circle on the Lake Chapala Society grounds in Ajijic, Mexico about pain relief for chronic conditions and end-of-life.
Her passionate presentation about the unmet needs in Jalisco state and throughout the country triggered many questions from the audience, plus more interest in bringing such services to the lake. Lake Chapala is about an hour’s drive from Mexico’s second largest city Guadalajara. An estimated 20,000 North Americans reside there during high season.
It is a goal of Dra Lua’s non-profit Juntos Contra el Dolor, A.C., (United Against Pain), http://www.juntoscontraeldolor.com, to educate communities throughout Mexico about what palliative care is, and show how to offer comfort care to those with life-limiting diseases. Ideally, there would be models for this care in each state. Currently, palliative care is primarily found in three large cities at regional hospitals – Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey.
In 2009 the Ministry of Public Health of Mexico established guidelines for palliative care entitling all residents of the nation to relief from pain. The challenge has been that most people do not know exactly what palliative care is, nor where to find it. Palliative medicine is often confused with pain clinics which may offer medications but do not necessarily include a holistic support team for the patient and family members during such trying times.
As of yet, there is no dedicated palliative care/hospice team – physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, clergy, and volunteers working together at Lake Chapala. There have been previous efforts to establish a hospice. (The main cities at the lake are Ajijic, Chapala, San Juan Cosala, and Jocotopec. It takes around 40 minutes to drive from Chapala on the east end to Jocotopec on the western end).
There are a number of highly talented retired palliative care and hospice administrators, physicians, nurses, clergy, social workers, and others from Canada, the U.S., South Africa, and other countries at the lake. Several groups have formed to discuss how to establish a service that can serve all populations and will endure.
On June 7, 2015 I had the pleasure of speaking to the Cotacachi Health Chapters group at Gran Hotel Primitivo about End-of-Life Planning for Norte Americanos. (Cotacachi is a charming Andean city 2 1/2 hours from Quito).
My hosts were community organizer Caroline Goering – a true delight – and a team of other amazing, supportive people – Dan and Janda Grove, Mike and Linda Munhall, and Bill and Ann Henry. What to do in case of a health emergency, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, is their focus.
We discussed physicians, who to call and why, transportation, the importance of having end-of-life documents prepared, attorneys and notaries, cremation options, and disposition of remains to North America.
Fortunately, bi-lingual nurse practitioner Mary Grover, a former Peace Corps volunteer, can be of service to the estimated 200 expats in the area. I introduced Mary to those who had not met her.
A special thanks to CHC for the invitation. I was exhausted by the time I arrived, but content to meet a group that understands the importance of planning ahead, just in case, when living abroad.