People eat at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home in Caracas. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Felix rests at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home in Caracas. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

If life in Venezuela is tough, it’s even worse for the elderly.

The South American nation is plunging deeper into economic crisis fueled by corruption, failed socialist policies and lower oil prices, generating historic levels of hyperinflation that has left the old and infirm scrambling to find and pay for vital medicines. They face standing in hours-long lines to cash pension checks that don’t adequately cover nutrition. Many have watched as their families have left this oil-rich country, leaving them to face lonely quests for survival.

Nationwide, the elderly are confronting major shortages of medicines that are indispensable for their age, even as their purchasing power has fallen around 90 percent in 2018.

The struggle is evident at the Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home in a southern Caracas suburb, where weak patients have rapidly deteriorated.

On a recent afternoon, a woman in her 80s clung tightly to a column in the kitchen, shouting insults hysterically. The medicines she takes to control her mood swings haven’t been available for a month. In recent weeks, two other patients with epilepsy had convulsions because the nursing home is no longer able to afford or find their pills.

A couple in their sixties opened the nursing home in 2001, using a model where residents help run the facility, which is now home to 77 elderly men and women. The security guard, for instance, is Tito Armando Matos, a 60-year-old who exchanges work for lodging and medical care. “We’re battling to stay alive,” Matos said.

The Venezuelan government occasionally provides food baskets to the home. But its budget relies heavily on donations, which have been falling fast. At the same time, essentials from soap to diapers are priced ever higher in Venezuela’s hyperinflationary economy, making these difficult times. Owner Baudilio Vega said he’s considered closing many times, but the patients’ resilience pushes him to keep going, he said, “and to keep a smile on my face no matter what.”


Leonardo watches television in Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Slippers at a bedside in Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Juab walks at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Patients rest at the Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Josefa is a schizophrenia patient at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Jose at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Patients make diapers with clothes donated by the government at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Carmen rests at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

Garbage thrown out at Mother of Calcutta Nursing Home. (Wil Riera/Wil Riera)

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