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This statement was made by Argentina’s General Public Defender, Stella Maris Martínez, in her opening remarks at the International Conference entitled “Neglect vs. Inclusion –Moving towards a New Meaning for the Elderly”.

“While Argentine laws are very progressive, this does not translate into practice. Families are left alone to deal with their elderly, without knowing where to turn for help or what their rights are. This gradually leads to the exclusion of the elderly and caregivers’ exhaustion, which, in turn, leads to psychological and even physical abuse,” stated Martínez at the Conference held in Buenos Aires City’s Council.

And she added, “Take a typical example: if a person needs to have surgery, and her doctor says that he will only do the procedure with the ‘X’ prosthetics, she goes to her medical insurance provides and is told that she is only covered for the ‘Z’ prosthetics. This individual comes to us, and we issue a warning, and 99% of the times, the problem is solved. However, what about the stress this person endured in the meantime? What if she didn’t know that she could come to us for legal support?”

Based on the experience at the General Public Defender’s Office, where a dedicated program was created for healthcare, handicaps and the elderly in order to provide case law support for public defenders and, at the same time, to come up with creative solutions for emerging issues, Martínez cited another example, referring to burial services for medical insurance holders’ spouses in Rosario.

“There was a time when medical insurance providers refused to pay for spouses’ burial services. Then, people had to come to us to ask for an injunction and to have a judge rule on the coverage. These things happen every day,” she said.

For this public official, “the change needed implies casting aside an exclusion culture and having the State play a key role. We are not going to be able to leverage the wealth of our elderly if we are not more sensitive and trained to view senior citizens not as a family ‘problem’ but a concern for society at large.”

Similarly, the head of the National Department of Policies for the Elderly (DINAPAM, for its Spanish acronym), Susana Rubinstein, stated that “the State needs to commit to this issue” and added that “there is widespread consensus to award constitutional status to the Inter American Convention on Elderly Human Rights Protection by the end of the year or early 2017.”

This Convention is an agreement entered into by the member states at the Organization of American States (OAS), and it is binding –that is, once a country has adhered to it and awards it constitutional status, it must start to deploy the mechanisms to comply with the rights guaranteed by the Convention.

“There are many adjustments to be made, for example, in order to provide caregivers for the elderly –currently, the elderly must apply for a disability certificate in order to qualify for a caregiver. Joining the Convention will provide a tool to force us, as a State, to commit to changing these issues,” she said.

The official from DINAPAM, which reports to the National Ministry of Social Development’s Department of Childhood, Teenage and Family (SENNAF), also highlighted the need to fight the prejudice against the elderly, noting that “there are images, fueled by society and the media, that portray senior citizens as lost, impaired individuals, like comedian Antonio Gasalla’s character, ‘Mamá Cora’, who is viewed as funny.”

The opening of the Conference organized by Universidad Austral’s Family Science Institute’s Center for Interpersonal Relationship Studies (CERI) was also attended by Emilio Basavilbaso, head of ANSES, who reviewed the agency’s policies as well as those of the National Government, including the Historical Reparation Act, which will update the income of over two million retired senior citizens and will make a retroactive payment to those who had started legal proceedings, and the Universal Pension for Senior Citizens (PUAM).

Basavilbaso also reported that “we already nearing 500,000 income readjustments for senior citizens over 80 or with severe health issues, who were made a priority.” However, ANSES’ head admitted that “some mistreatment still persists, such as forcing senior citizens to stand in line for an hour to get information or to collect their pension. We must remedy this.”

In Argentina, nearly 15% of the population is 60 or older, and 93% of them are retired or on a pension.

Finally, Basavilbaso pointed out that “when someone asks me if the retirement age should be raised, I reply that what we need to do is to do is to increase the number of formal, registered jobs. That way, we benefit on two fronts: on the one hand, contributions are made to the social security system, and, on the other, workers’ conditions are improved.”

During the Conference, a large number of renowned psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, physicians, lawyers and family counselors lectured on how to provide new meaning to the role of the elderly in society.

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