Ole! Seniors Choosing Nursing Homes in Mexico

May 5, 2010

Hi Everyone: I ran across the below informative article, while bit long, it does share some good information about how you can save significant money if you have elderly parents who need assisted living and you would like to live here at Lake Chapala Ajijic and still have your elderly loved ones close by.

The article was written by
Laurence Harmon .


He writes for Great Places. For more information on nursing home or assisted living go to Great Places!

Mexico, many of them in enclaves such as San Miguel de Allende or the Chapala area, says David Warner, a University of Texas public affairs professor who has studied the phenomenon. There are no reliable data on how many are living in nursing homes, but at least five such facilities are on Lake Chapala.

“You can barely afford to live in the United States anymore,” said Harry Kislevitz, 78, of New York City. A stroke victim, he moved to a convalescent home on the lake’s shore two years ago and credits the staff with helping him recover his speech and ability to walk.  “Here you see the birds, you smell the air, and it’s delicious,” Kislevitz said. “You feel like living.”

Many expatriates are Americans or Europeans who retired here years ago and are now becoming more frail. Others are not quite ready for a nursing home but are exploring options such as in-home health care services, which can provide Mexican nurses at a fraction of U.S. prices.

Retirement homes are relatively new in Mexico, where the aging seniors usually live with family. There is little government regulation. Some places have suddenly gone bankrupt, forcing American residents to move. Some Mexican homes have rough edges, such as peeling paint or frayed sofas, that would turn off many Americans.

“I don’t think they’re for everyone,” said Thomas Kessler, whose mother suffers from manic depression and lives at a home in Ajijic. “But basically, they’ve kept our family finances from falling off a cliff.”

Residents such as Richard Slater say they are happy in Mexico. Slater came to Lake Chapala four years ago and now lives in his own cottage at the Casa de Ancianos, surrounded by purple bougainvillea and pomegranate trees.

He has plenty of room for his two dogs and has a little patio that he shares with three other American residents. He gets 24-hour nursing care and three meals a day, cooked in a homey kitchen and served in a sun-washed dining room. His cottage has a living room, bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and a walk-in closet.

For this Slater pays $550 a month, less than one-tenth of the going rate back home in Las Vegas. For another $140 a year, he gets full medical coverage from the Mexican government, including all his medicine and insulin for diabetes.

“This would all cost me a fortune in the United States,” said Slater, a 65-year-old retired headwaiter.

On a recent afternoon, lunch at the Casa de Ancianos consisted of vegetable soup, beet salad, Spanish rice, baked dogfish stuffed with peppers, garlic bread and a choice of four cakes and two Jell-O salads. Slater’s neighbor doesn’t like Mexican food, so a nursing home employee cooks whatever she wants on a stove beside her bed.

Like many retirees, Slater has satellite television, so he doesn’t miss any American news or programs. When he wants to see a movie or go shopping downtown, the taxi ride is only $2 or $3. Guadalajara, a culturally rich city of four million people, is just 30 miles away.

For medical care, Slater relies on the Mexican Social Security Institute, or IMSS, which runs clinics and hospitals nationwide and allows foreigners to enroll in its program even if they never worked in Mexico or paid taxes to support the system. He recently had gallbladder surgery in an IMSS hospital in Guadalajara, and he paid nothing.

Many of the nursing home employees speak English, and so does Slater’s doctor.

The Casa de Ancianos began accepting foreigners in 2000 as part of an effort to raise extra money, director Marlene Dunham said. It built the cottages especially for the Americans and uses the income received from them to subsidize the costs of the 20 Mexican residents at the home.

The program was so successful that the nursing home has plans for 12 more cottages, a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and a gazebo with picnic area. The nursing home now advertises on the Internet and through pamphlets distributed in town. Some U.S. companies have also begun investing in assisted living facilities in Mexico, said Larry Minnix, president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, which represents 5,800 nursing homes and related services.

However, Minnix cautioned that lax government regulation poses dangers at smaller homes.

“It’s the same danger you have of going across the border looking for cheap medications,” Minnix said. “If you don’t know what you’re getting, and you’re not getting it from people you trust, then you’ve got an accident waiting to happen.”

Since many nursing homes are run out of private homes, regulation by state health departments is often spotty. Managers such as Beverly Ward of Casa Nostra and Maura Funes of El Paraiso, both in Ajijic, said that Mexican officials inspect them only once a year, unlike U.S. inspectors, who may visit a home several times a year.

The U.S. Embassy said it had no record of complaints against Mexican nursing homes, but some residents in the Lake Chapala area reported bad experiences at now-defunct homes.

The first home that Jean Douglas lived in after she moved from Oregon was staffed by “gossips and thieves,” she said. It went out of business.  Irene Chiara of Los Angeles also lived in a home that was shut down by Jalisco state authorities.

“It was filthy, and the food was very bad. It was all made in the microwave,” she said.

Some Mexican managers also underestimate the costs and difficulty of running a retirement home. Two hotels turned into assisted living facilities, The Spa in San Miguel de Allende and The Melville in the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlán, recently abandoned the business, their managers said.

“It was very expensive to run it,” said Luis Terán, manager of The Melville.  Some managers said they were especially selective when admitting foreign residents, to make sure they’ll be able to pay. Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most U.S. insurance companies will not cover care or medicine as long as patients are outside the USA.

Some American residents said they had doubts about the quality of Mexican medical facilities and would go back to the USA if they became seriously ill. Jim May, 74, a resident of the Casa de Ancianos, said he recently decided to move to Texas to be closer to Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The language barrier can be daunting, and Mexican food can be very different, some residents said.

Some residents said they miss home and find it hard to make friends with Mexican residents. “It’s a very nice place, but it’s lonesome,” said Polly Coull, 99, of Seminole, Fla., a resident at Alicia’s Convalescent Nursing Home in Ajijic.

Mexican entrepreneurs are doing their best to prepare for a tide of Americans.  In the Baja Peninsula town of Ensenada, the Residencia Lourdes opened in 2003, offering care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia. The towns around Lake Chapala have at least five small retirement homes. Most of them opened in the last five years and house from one to 25 foreigners.  The largest, Alicia’s Convalescent Nursing Home, consists of four renovated homes, one of them specializing in stroke victims and another for Alzheimer’s patients. Prices range from $1,000 to $1,500 a month and include everything except medicine and adult diapers. The rooms are outfitted in Mexican style, with murals, hand-carved beds, arched ceilings lined with brick and individual patios.

In other American enclaves, in-home healthcare services have sprung up to serve the retirees. In Rosarito, just south of the U.S. border, INCARE provides nursing aides to retirees starting at $8.33 an hour, less than half the cost of the same service in nearby San Diego.

Developers of independent living facilities for seniors are also beginning to look to Mexico. A Spanish-U.S. venture is building Sensara Vallarta, a 250-unit condominium complex aimed at Americans age 50 and older in the Pacific Coast resort of Puerto Vallarta. And in the northern city of Monterrey, El Legado is marketing itself as a “home resort” for seniors.

Academics and government officials are beginning to take notice. In March, the University of Texas at Austin held a forum for developers, hospital officials, insurance companies and policymakers to discuss health care for retirees in Mexico.

“With the right facilities in place, Mexico could give (American retirees) a better quality of life at a better price than they could find in the United States,” says Flavio Olivieri, a member of Tijuana’s Economic Development Council, which is seeking funding from Mexico’s federal government to build more retirement homes, including senior apartments. “We think this could be a very good business as these baby boomers reach retirement age,” he says.

  • http://www.ChapalaClub.com Sid

    Here are a few contacts from our local directory for Assisted living and nursing homes..

    LaSagrada Famila E mail = youfamily@hotmail.com

    Telephone from USA = 011 52 376 762 1425

    It’s located on the North side of the Mountain a few miles from Lake Chapala.

    Alcia’s Retirement & Nursing
    011 52 376 7660721 from USA

    Casa de Ancianos 011 52 376 765 – 2497 and 765- 5689

    Blue House Nursing Home – 011 52 376 766 1256 (
    La Casa Nostra – 011 52 376 764 4187

    NOTE: I’d recommend having a bi lingual friend call and ask for the Manager at these facilities who more than likely will speak basic English.

    I’ve visited La Cosa Nostra several years ago and it looked nice to me.

    Several years ago they were quoting just over $1,000 USD per month for everything. Fees are likely higher now.

    Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Betty

    Hola Sid!
    I have worked in the health care industry for 40 years. The article was wonderful and very informative. I have been teaching nurse aids for the past 2 years. There is a real need for some type of nursing facilities to care for all the seniors here and in Mexico. I glad to see the are starting to supply that need. Now if the government here in the US and the insurance companies would pay for this service in Mexico they would find their cash outflow would be a lot less. Thank you for a great article.

  • http://www.chapalaclub.com Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Betty, Thanks for your very nice comments on the Nursing Home Facilities article.

    Just a couple of years ago there were only 2 or 3. I expect we will see more of them opening in the area over the next few years as Baby Boomers come down and bring aging parents with them. They could probably live on the difference of the cost of care here vs. the USA.

    Thanks again. Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • fernando

    Hi Sid,

    I would like to get in touch with you. We are setting a new facility. Can you please email me back?


  • http://www.chapalaclub.com Sid Grosvenor

    Fernando and I have been in contact by e mail and we hope to get together soon to discuss a video and article about a new elder care facility here at Lake Chapala. Sid

  • http://web.me.com/hugohermosillo/amy´s_convalescent_home/Home.html Hugo

    Hi, I just like to comment on our convalescent home for elderly in Los Cabos Mexico, called AMY´S CONVALESCENT HOMES, it is a extension of alicia´s convalescent homes located in ajijic mexico.
    for more information please visit our website http://www.web.me.com/hugohermosillo/amy´s_convalescent_home/Home.html

    or email us to : hugohermosillo@me.com or hugohermosillo@hotmail.com

  • Suzie

    Ola Sid! I’m wondering if you got my email about looking for nursing home email address or website. Please reply either way. I’ll be visiting Ajijic again and would like to set tour appointments ahead of time due to my limiting schedule. I have phone numbers off your directory but I don’t always get signal therefore would like to know if anyone of these nursing homes have email-for communication.

    Thank you & God bless,


  • http://www.chapalaclub.com Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Suzie, Thanks for your comments and question. Somehow I missed your e mail. I apologize. I get around 150 e mails a day and some of them go into my spam folder which i do check but I sometimes miss one I wish I hadn’t.

    Some of the Nursing facilities likely do have e mails. I don’t have any of them. Let me share a cultural thing with you. Mexican people have e mails but unfortunately are not very good at returning e mails. I love, Mexico, I love the people. I accept them as they are. They’re just not good at returning e mails.

    You’re much better off trying the telephone numbers. Leaving messages to return you call will likely not work very well either. Again. we think this is very impolite , but that’s the way it is. In person you will have their complete undivided attention and normally be very happy with your visit.

    Here’s a link to a prior article on Nursing facilities here. Look forward to meeting you when you come for a visit.


    Tu amigo, Sid

  • Ashley

    Hi, I’m a recent graduate from Toronto, Canada and studied gerontology, specializing in restorative care and recreational programming for seniors. My sister currently lives in Queretaro and having visited twice and falling in love with Mexico and the culture, I’m wondering if their are any employment opportunities in Long Term care or Retirement for me. I guess my question is, do they provide daily programs for residents in these facilities? As well as hire staff to run these programs?


  • http://www.chapalaclub.com Sid Grosvenor

    HI Ashley, Im not sure about daily programs, but I suspect not a lot from what I’ve seen.

    Good basic care is provided at very affordable rates. Stimulation is via TV, community pets, and simple activities.

    Perhaps someone else can share what they know.

    You would have to convince the facility to write letter to the Mexican government to say that there was no Mexican National available to take the job and they wanted to hire you.

    Your wages would not be anything near what they would be in the USA or Canada, but then neither would your expenses of living here.

    Hope this helps. Tu amigo, Sid

  • Richard III

    Sounds like a great deal, except for all the DRUG GANG MURDERS.
    And, of course you really need to learn SPANISH!

  • Sid

     Hi Richard,

    You’re wrong on both counts. No North Americans have been murder
    in Drug Related Gang Murders at Lake Chapala. In fact there have only
    been 3 North Americans murder at Lake Chapala (70 miles long) out
    of an estimated 25,000 of us in the last 10 years.

    Spanish is helpful, but not really “needed” since so many local people
    have learned English to better serve their guests.

    I’ve not removed your post in order to give those who actually live here
    and know the truth an opportunity to set you straight.

    Would you say the same thing about the towns involved in the USA where
    deranged individuals have gone on shooting rampages of children and others?

    I think not. Sid Grosvenor

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