Tonalea Seniors meet with County Supervisor, ask for assistance
Health care for senior citizens on the reservation is sometimes hard to come by, especially in isolated areas or smaller communities. But with the advent of Mercy Housing in communities like Leupp, the need to send elders to bordertowns for long-term care can decrease. The possibility of so attractive that other communities around the reservation are also requesting Mercy Housing in their areas.
Coconino County Supervisor Deb Hill visited the Tonalea Senior Center March 14 to hear the concerns of local residents, and Mercy Housing was also on the top of their list, said Linda Fowler, who runs the center. The seniors asked that Hill advocate on behalf of the community to bring a facility to Tonalea.
“Our elderlies can have a lot of problems, even if they are not that old, and end up going to nursing homes like Los Arcos in Flagstaff,” said Fowler. “Some of them are just too isolated to live on their own, without water or electricity.”
Losing elders to bordertowns weakens the community structure, said Fowler. “It is just so painful and hurts us so much. We had one woman on Preston Mesa who we took home deliveries to, who got to the point that she couldn’t walk or get out.” Although they initially took her to the hospital in Tuba City, it wasn’t a permanent solution. “Eventually,” said Fowler, “we had to send her down to Los Arcos.”
Mercy Housing offers seniors the chance to stay in the community by offering seniors assisted-living housing units, which also means that seniors would have more immediate access to health care if they need it.
In fact, said Fowler, Tonalea has no health care facility at all right now, and people have to drive the 23 miles into Tuba City to see a doctor.
“The seniors also asked Hill if the old health care facility could be reopened or if a new building could be constructed,” said Fowler. Like many structures on the reservation, the existing health care building is 30-40 years old and was closed due to problems with asbestos.
Better care for the elders was not the only concern brought to Hill’s attention. Seniors also discussed the need for better roads. Right now, said Fowler, the roads can be very muddy, or so rough that vehicles fall apart very quickly. The seniors asked that Hill help them bring the issue up to both the County and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, since it is often not clear which institution should be approached on the issue of road maintenance.
Like many places on the reservation, Tonalea is also interested in fostering economic development. Said Fowler, the community used to a have a local farm run by the Farm Board Association, but that farm has fallen into disuse. “The elders think that there could be good job opportunities there, producing corn and vegetables, if the Farm Board could get it going again.”
The Senior Center, too, which serves about 50 people a day, needs continued funds for operation. Money from the County could be used for trips and activities. “We find that many of our seniors are lonely, depressed and have no visitors. We not only provide food, but also help them learn about diabetes, budgeting for coal and wood, fraud prevention. Many of our elderlies only talk Navajo and ask us for help reading letters or getting their identification cards so they can get services.” “
The center also likes to take the seniors on trips, helping to combat some of the isolation they can experience, but those trips take funds.
The Senior Center also recently had their VCR stolen, and the seniors have missed it greatly, said Fowler. They asked her to request that the County help them put up security bars to prevent it from happening again.
Hill could not be reached for comment before press time.