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South Texas Has Dozens of Adult Day Centers - and Austin Has Just One

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News
At Mi Casa Adult Day Care Center in Mission, Texas, seniors and people with disabilities avoid spending the day home alone.

Seniors in the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo County have dozens of day care centers to choose from – places that help keep seniors from spending the day home alone.

Centers like Mi Casa Adult Day Care in Mission, Texas – not far from McAllen – dot many street corners here in this part of the Rio Grande Valley. They offer rides to see the doctor, to pay bills or to pick up a social security check.

"We have outings such as the flea market, the shrine," says Mi Casa's manager, Sylvia Cavazos. "The shrine is about six miles away from here. … There’s a special mass done there by the bishop every last Tuesday of the month for adult day cares."

Hispanic seniors who participate include Jose Efrén Velazquez, who's in his early 60s and retired young after an auto accident.

"Before retiring, I worked in agriculture. My job was to water, apply chemicals, cut trees with large saws. I would cover 40 acres a day," Velazquez says. "Since I was a boy I’ve been working in agriculture here in the Valley."

The center offers culturally appropriate activities and foods for clients like him. For many seniors, it’s a much-needed social connection. And these centers are very popular – different ones have to fight each other for customers.

Cavazos says when the number of clients at Mi Casa drops, it’s because they’ve decided to go to another center. "There’s a lot of competition out there. I’m gonna say that there’s a center on every corner, as they say," she adds.

According to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Hidalgo County has 169 licensed adult day care centers.

"In South Texas it’s booming because Medicaid will pay for that and many of our Hispanic residents/seniors participate in that program," says Jacqueline Angel, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. She’s also a member of Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s Task Force on Aging.

Austin and Round Rock, on the other hand, have no competition. Each city has only one licensed adult day care provider – and it’s the same nonprofit.

Austin Groups for the Elderly (AGE) of Central Texas offers activities like Irish story time and tai chi. Program director Stephanie Hoffman says seniors who spend the day here had a wide range of professions.

"We’re going from CEOs of their companies to housewives. We have physicians, we have ophthalmologists, we have journalists, we have professors at UT that are here," Hoffman says. "Football players at UT that are here. We also have people in agriculture. A lot of people that have worked for the state."

The average person who comes here is 78. AGE gets funding from Medicaid and other sources like St. David’s Foundation.

"There’s a number of adult [day cares]that have attempted to start but haven’t succeeded because they don’t have that extra funding that we need in order to make it happen," Hoffman says. "The state does cover a tiny portion of that."

Hoffman says property costs are also very expensive in Austin. Plus, it’s expensive to have all the staff necessary to do everything from nursing to contracting with Medicaid. But she wishes there were more competition.

"There really should be a lot more," she says. "And there are a lot of folks who don’t know about us. And because we are a nonprofit, we don’t have a huge advertising budget, so it’s word of mouth primarily. I would love it if there were another 10 adult day centers, it’s definitely a need."  

A newly formed Commission on Seniors is meeting once a month to advise the Austin City Council on how to meet the needs of Austin’s booming senior population. The commission’s next meeting is April 9. 

This story is part of the MetLife Foundation’s “Journalists in Aging Fellows Program” – organized by The Gerontological Society of America and New America Media.

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