Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, senior citizens services and programs appear on the rebound at the start of 2023 across Eddy County, government officials said.
Visits to the Alejandro Ruiz Senior Center — formerly San Jose Senior Center —fell from more than 42,000 people in 2020 to more than 29,000 people in 2022, per data from the City of Carlsbad Municipal Services.
COVID-19 health mandates from the State of New Mexico impacted senior citizens and other government functions nearly three years ago.
The City of Carlsbad occupied the San Jose Senior Center for nearly 40 years before moving in the summer of 2022 to the new Alejandro Ruiz Senior Center.
“We all lost good friends during COVID. Additionally, senior centers were shut down for a long period of time, and that meant many of our seniors were not getting to see their friends on a regular basis. We have seniors who are still cautious about going back out in public,” Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway said.
Carlsbad was not alone in senior citizens activities affected by COVID-19. Caryle Goss, commission on aging supervisor for the City of Artesia, said visitors to the Artesia Senior Center fell from more than 7,000 people during the summer of 2019 to around 1,400 in the spring of 2021.
She said visitations increased to more than 2,287 in the fall and winter of 2021 to more than 2,800 in the spring and summer of 2022.
Before COVID-19, Goss said senior citizens in Artesia played bridge, line danced and participated in arts and crafts activities.
Post pandemic, she said seniors are exercising more and playing billiards or pool.
Goss said the Artesia Senior Center was a go-between senior citizens and Artesia churches as older residents of the community sought necessities during COVID-19.
“During COVID (-19) we called seniors every week and called to make sure they were OK,” she said.
“Pre COVID (-19) it was very busy here. We ran two vans every day to the (Senior) Meal Site,” Goss added. “Now we transport 4 to 6 people a day to the Meal Site.”
Meals from the Southeast New Mexico Community Action Corporation (SNMCAC) are served at the Artesia Senior Meal Site, which is a separate facility from the Artesia Senior Center.
The Alejandro Ruiz Senior Center in Carlsbad serves meals from SNMCAC along with hosting regular senior activities.
Senior Center Manager Amparo Vasquez said there was a surge in attendance after the COVID-19 shutdowns ended.
“Our strategy during COVID-19 was to do the best we can to communicate, both about the pandemic and about all other issues. In fact, we began doing daily updates during the pandemic as a way of trying to keep connected with our citizens,” Janway said.
He said the city offered other projects for senior citizens including sending personalized cards to those who could not get out.
“Our senior centers worked to provide games and activities for seniors to do at home,” Janway said.
“Participation at our senior centers is rebuilding very fast, and we have no doubt that is in process to be stronger than ever,” he added.
Alejandro Ruiz Senior Center construction update
The center is the former Pate Elementary School and was donated nearly five years ago to the City of Carlsbad by the Carlsbad Municipal Schools (CMS).
The City of Carlsbad secured $1.3 million in local funds and New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (NMDFA) Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for phase one work, said Angie Barrios-Testa, director of municipal services and capital programs.
Phase one work included initial renovations to the kitchen, office space and activity rooms to get the facility ready for last summer’s move.
She estimated funding for phase two work at $1.68 million with monies coming from the City of Carlsbad and New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD) for roof upgrades and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking lot improvements and expansion.
“Roof upgrades are expected to begin in April 2023, and ADA and parking lot expansion and improvements are to begin later in February or March 2023,” Barrios-Testa said.
She said phase three work was estimated to be $1.53 million pending a grant agreement with ALTSD.
“This phase will renovate additional activity rooms, add restrooms, and begin outdoor recreation improvements at the facility,” Barrios-Testa said.
“The activity rooms at the new center are quite a bit larger, which allows for more program space,” Vasquez said. “The older location was also starting to experience some very serious wear and tear.”
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.