(from Sofia) They are among the most vulnerable brackets in Bulgarian society and they constitute the most numerous group, although they are often invisible and isolated in their loneliness. At the sundown of their lives, the old people of Bulgaria should be the object of special attention. Old people represent 12% of the overall population of the Balkan Country, almost half of them live under the threshold of poverty – 150 Euro on a monthly basis. 40% of over-65 citizens receive a monthly pension amounting to less than 100 Euro. For this reason, support to old people is an absolute priority of Caritas Bulgaria.
“While the State provides for various forms of subsidies for children in need and disabled persons, the senior citizens of Bulgaria lack medical-sanitary assistance to meet their needs”, said the Secretary General of Caritas Bulgaria Emanouil Patashev, explaining the preferential option for the poor and other people in need assisted by the charity organization. “We realized that in addition to economic difficulties, many older people live in isolation, they have no relatives, in many cases their family members live in large cities or abroad, and when affected by illnesses they are increasingly less self-sufficient”, he added. With a mean pension of 75 Euro older people in Bulgaria cannot afford a carer and end up in hospices.
One such case is that of Nadka Petkova, from the city of Rakovski, near Plovdiv. This 84 years-old woman has been a widow for 35 years, she has only one daughter still living of her three siblings, who struggles to help her owing to her old age. Nadka uses only one room of her small home – especially in winter when it’s very cold. “I spend the whole day in these few square meters – I get up, have tea, and I slowly cook myself something to eat, then I watch TV and the days go by”, the old lady told SIR.
Old age brings health problems – Nadka has a very high blood pressure, she relies on an inhaler for her asthma, suffers from a slipped disk, etc. She turned to Caritas for help: “I didn’t know where to find assistance, to take my blood pressure, and check that everything is OK. These apparently simple forms of support mean a lot at my age.”
Caritas old-age service is called “Home treatment.” Mobile medical care units, consisting of a nurse and as social workers, pay regular visits to old people, help them with their healthcare needs that include medical assistance, buy groceries, do their home cleaning, accompany them to the doctor or to the hospital.
“All the old people we assist are poor; some of them are so sick that they can’t even get out of bed. Others are in better health conditions, but they have various needs. For them the most important thing is to remain in their homes and feel that they are being taken care of”, Patashev said.
Bulgaria’s health and social system doesn’t provide for home medical-social assistance for the elderly and the Caritas service fills this gap, but due to the lack of funds it is difficult to extend it to new seniors citizens.” Many people call us and ask for paid help assisting their elderly family members, but we refuse for we don’t want our help s to become an economic model to the detriment of the poor”, said Caritas Secretary General.
Monthly assistance expenses amount to 90 leva (45 Euro). “We promote fundraising campaigns, especially during Christmas. We have several partners – banks, national TV and radio networks, media outlets, while people’s solidarity has increased over the years,”, Patashev said. The campaign enables them to cover the expenses of half of the centres that provide assistance to older people. Caritas’ “Home Treatment” program is present in 14 areas of Bulgaria.
Another characterising feature of the Caritas service is professionalism. Their model is the German experience. But in Germany this service enjoys public funding. “We have been fighting this battle with the State for years, since, as Pope Francis says, old people are ‘a precious treasure, indispensable for looking ahead to the future with hope and responsibility’. New strategies are being adopted at governmental level and we hope public authorities will give a helping hand to extend our service to more senior citizens”, Patashev concluded. For old people the meetings with Caritas workers are signs of hope, while waiting for regular visitors that may help them with their needs. It makes them feel important, that they mean something for someone, and they return to smile.