Ruth Villagra learned about a program dedicated to offering a better quality of life for seniors through her husband.

"He was on the show and I was accompanying him to the doctor and I started watching the show," said Villagra, 69. "In 2018 they accepted me and I started coming."

She refers to AltaMed's Comprehensive Care for the Elderly Program (PACE) which offers medical, social, nutritional and rehabilitation services to participants 55 years of age or older. To participate they must have been certified by the state as needing a level of care in a nursing home.

Nicaraguan-born Villagra attends the clinic's PACE program in the city of Lynwood, southeast of Los Angeles. Among her favorite activities are arts and crafts.

“I like to paint ceramics and wooden puzzles. I also like painting class, ”Villagra said Wednesday while doing his painting in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. "Here in art and painting classes you renew yourself and do incredible things that you didn't even know you could do."

Ruth Villagra shows her painting that was chosen to be part of the 2020 AltaMed calendar. (Jacqueline García)

Villagra enjoys all the crafts. Every time he gets to the center, he engages with his peers and sets out to finish his art projects, giving him a true sense of pride.

And his talent has not gone unnoticed. Villagra has already made his work seen by many people. She was one of 12 people chosen to capture her painting on AltaMed's 2020 calendar. Each year the best patient paintings are chosen to form part of a calendar that is printed and delivered to all AltaMed clinics. Other paintings that have good potential are displayed in the hallways of the clinics.

The canvas painting class is offered once a month by the volunteer and patient of the PACE program, Mercedes Ulloa-Reyes. She said she started attending AltaMed at Lynwood three years ago and it feels great to share art differently.

"I play the piano (by profession) and I get the A-B-C of painting and this is how one teaches also learns," said Ulloa-Reyes while guiding her six students in their paintings.

The volunteer instructor, of Chilean origin, said that she does the painting at home and takes it to the class so that later the students can see the model.

Mercedes Ulloa-Reyes (at the end) instructs the art class. In the photo he appears with Maria Tellez and Ruth Villagra. (Jacqueline García / La Opinion)

Raising self-esteem

According to the American Art Therapy Association, 78% of art therapists report that they work with older adults on a regular basis. For older people who manage daily pain from chronic conditions or even those who suffer memory loss due to dementia, art therapy helps sharpen the mind while promoting dexterity.

Additionally, many art therapy programs are conducted in a social atmosphere, allowing older people the opportunity to continue building connections and relationships with others.

For older people, art therapy can also help restore function and a general feeling of well-being, confirmed Lorena Fajardo, activities coordinator for AltaMed's PACE program in Lynwood.

"They are doing very well here because instead of being in a room waiting for their medical services, they come here to be busy and do crafts," Fajardo said. "If they are at home, they are often alone and can fall into depression."

Juan M. Melendez shows the art piece he is making with sequins and beads for a family member. (Jacqueline García / La Opinion)

Fajardo said that the different activities of the program keep them active and with their minds working at all times. Artists can embroider, knit, paint beads, sequins, or paint pottery, wood canvas, needlework, newspaper art, wood, and more.

"We have people who have only one hand and they turn out to be very good at art," said Fajardo. "And there are also those who do not want to do anything and just start talking. The purpose is to serve the community and avoid deterioration and anxiety. "

For people 55 and older who are eligible for Medi-Cal or a combination of Medi-Cal and Medicare, AltaMed PACE benefits and services are fully covered by insurance, explains Miriam Galicia, director of marketing at AltaMed Health Services.

If you qualify for the Medicare and Medi-Cal program only for people with medical needs (MNO), there is a monthly premium. If you are eligible for Medicare only, there is a monthly premium, but the premium may be reduced if you qualify for a low-income subsidy. If you are not eligible for Medi-Cal or Medicare, you must pay your full monthly premium out-of-pocket (private payment).


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