BY IVA MAURIN
GARAPAN, Saipan — Based on the 2010 Census Report, there are 5,722 senior citizens (over 55 years old) in the Northern Mariana Islands — 5,144 in Saipan, 262 in Tinian, and 316 in Rota. The latest Census data is not out yet, but more recent data by Countrymeters estimates that as of the beginning of 2021, about 1,992 are above 64 years old, constituting 3.6% of the entire population of the islands.
Caring for the elderly is ingrained in the local DNA. There is no residential care home. Designated to assist the elderly on island is the CNMI Office on Aging, under the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, providing aid for the man amko’ in the form of health and nutrition, transportation, counseling, leisure, employment, and care for caregivers, among other services.
The NMI has three senior centers, one on each island, with an average of up to 90 active congregation enrollees per month in Saipan, 18 in Tinian, and more than 20 in Rota. Active congregation is when the elderly — who must be 60 and above to enroll — are able to physically be at the Multi-Purpose Senior Center. For those unable, a Home Delivered Meals program is administered by the Office on Aging.
“We’re not a nursing home or an adult daycare center,” Walter Mangloña, director of the Office on Aging told the Journal. “We are a senior center for active clients.”
The senior centers on all three islands are open Monday thru Friday, from 7.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with activities beginning from around 9.30 a.m., up to 2 p.m. Provided in the center are nutritional meals, physical exercise, weekly health checkups, recreational activities, and accessibility services to stores, payment offices, social service offices, and more.
“Our program, at least for assisting senior citizens, falls under the Administration for Community Living, and we receive federal funds under our Title III Programs,” Mangloña said. “Under Title IIIB [Supportive Services Program], we provide transportation services. We provide assistance in terms of access, assistance in other supportive services — for example — if somebody needs help to apply for Medicaid or food stamps, under the Nutrition Assistance Program.”
The meals provided are nutritionist approved. The Office on Aging employs a nutritionist who oversees the food served to elders. Nutritional value is looked at, and all must be Older Americans Act-approved meals.
“Our main goal is basically to monitor everybody’s health and fitness levels so we can continue to provide assistance and advice to them; make sure they’re healthy and active,” Mangloña said. Aside from meals, Preventive Health programs are also available for the manåmko’, such as routine health screenings, physical fitness, and other health promotion programs to help prevent age-related diseases and chronic disabling conditions.
The senior center also has sports, bingo games, karaoke, and peer-to-peer communications focus groups where the elders sit down to talk amongst themselves, or intergenerationally with others.
“One of the biggest values in that is, when you get older, you tend to become more and more isolated. It’s a generation gap. … They don’t really have anybody to talk to. Sometimes, depression kicks in, and other mental issues — loneliness. When they come here, they get to talk to people. They get to share ideas and stories and get rejuvenated. I see it day-to-day — that passion, that fire, the drive returns,” Mangloña said.
“Our goal is to continue to give them something to look forward to, and to keep them healthy, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually.”
The Office on Aging also facilitates the Senior Community Service Employment Program [Title V program of the Older Americans Act], a training program funded by the Department of Labor for senior citizens 55 and older who meet low-income poverty guidelines, to help them acquire skills that would land them a full-time job.
There are 31 employment program slots in the NMI: 19 in Saipan, and six each on Tinian and Rota. Authorized positions include trainees on environmental technician, agriculture, front desk, groundskeeping, office administration, and food service, where seniors get paid a federal minimum wage four hours a day, or 20 hours a week, or 40 hours biweekly.
“Nowadays, there are many seniors that are in financial constraints; they need to work, and we continue to encourage them to be a big part of our community because they’re an asset, they’re regarded by the community, and they’re a very big part of our culture and our society,” Mangloña said.
“Our job is to make sure that we provide each participant with the tools and the knowledge to be able to allow them to compete. We would love them to continue to share their ideas, their thoughts and also continue to strive and earn money for themselves, for as long as possible, and we help them do that.”
In addition, help for the elderly is also extended to their caregivers — on information services, access assistance, counseling, and respite care — through the National Family Caregiver Support program.
“We talk about family members that actually stay and help their moms or their dads or their grandma or grandpa. We provide services for them, such as respite care, [which] is providing a little leisure time for the caregiver to go relax and breathe, stretch their legs, do whatever that can give them a little break, so they don’t burn out,” Mangloña said.
The Office on Aging contracts home care nurses, usually from the Marianas Visiting Nurses or the Marianas Health Care Services, to take care of the senior citizen while the family caregiver is on respite care.
For more information on the NMI programs for the elderly, contact the Office on Aging at (670) 233-1321/22 or visit its website at https://cnmiooa.org. mbj