For a large number of Guam’s seniors, social work programs that improve local housing can make a difference in their quality of life.
“Housing is not an isolated topic. It’s linked to … employment, transportation, access to health care, access to other services,” said Elizabeth Napoli, acting director of the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority, during the Guam Housing 2022 Symposium. “And (one) important thing to remember is that many older people and people with disabilities need support staff because they can have the biggest impact on the quality of life for them – can’t stress this enough.”
Quality of life is directly related to housing, according to Charlene San Nicolas, administrator of the Elderly Division of the Guam Department of Public Health and Human Services.
“So when seniors come into our office, whether it’s our Castle Mall location or we get access through our contract provider Health Services of the Pacific, they assess and determine what the seniors need, whether it’s housing, transportation or access to care services.” said San Nicolas.
According to the 2010 Guam Census cited by San Nicolas, the Department of Elderly provided services to approximately 3,905 Manåmko’, approximately 3% of the island’s elderly population or those aged 60 years and older.
Of this amount, the Seniors Department provided case management services to approximately 2,447 seniors and provided 19,436 case management units.
Case Management Units are instances where older people receive access assistance. However, the effort is being challenged by a shortage of social workers.
“We’re looking at a span of 10 clerks. Those 10 clerks based on our budget that we have approval for this program and it’s going to be high on the direct service side,” San Nicolas said.
A decade has passed since the census data was released, and since then the demand for services has increased.
“Some of the trends that have been listed over the past three years is a transition from clients requiring therapeutic and non-medical care,” said San Nicolas. “So that was in there, in terms of housing needs.”
She said the pandemic has done some good for the Bureau of Adult Protective Services as the federal government has allocated additional funding.
How golden the “golden years” of life are for many people over 60 depends on their degree of independence. Not all Manåmko’ can live independently, and some need support from professionals, including caregivers.
DPHSS has worked with subject matter experts in Georgia who focus on personalized home care.
“It breaks my heart when I have someone who is finally placed but then a healthcare situation happens and they need nursing help even for a short period of time and they can’t get it because they can’t afford it,” Napoli said . “That’s the problem – many older people really can’t live independently without some kind of support.”
Currently, the Seniors Department offers six support services for Guams Manåmko:
• Case Management Services.
• Adult day care centers expected to reopen in May.
• 12 Senior Centers focused on socialization and access.
• In-Home Service Programs.
• Contracted transportation for medical and other non-work related needs.
• Legal services resumed in 2020.
Public Health also offers community and home nutrition programs. In fiscal 2020, nearly 438,000 meals were served to homebound seniors.
“This is Monday through Sunday, excluding 10 public holidays,” San Nicolas said. “That’s 437,688 meals, so think about it.”
“It’s really necessary”
With a number of older residents dependent on support services from agencies such as DPHSS and GHURA, the panel’s experts agreed that efforts must be aimed at stimulating people’s interest in careers in social work.
“Foster interest in this direct ministry, the community service program as a career path — it’s really necessary,” Napoli said. “It’s not just an issue here, the lack of support services, it’s a nationwide issue and I think something needs to be done to try to get our younger generation interested in looking at this as a career. Maybe public policy can work out ways to encourage this as a career path.”