STEPHEN HEMELT — Those caring for our aging population are in important roles

Published 12:16 am Saturday, July 23, 2022

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I am forever impressed by the professional men and women who care for our aging and elderly population.

According to nonprofit research organization Urban Institute, the number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040.

The number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040.

Planning for the care of these individuals has already begun and must be prioritized before the need outpaces the supply.

A good place to start is with those individuals and organizations with boots on the ground addressing this public health priority.

Southeast Texas Hospice in Orange is doing things right.

An in-person memorial service Thursday offered a chance to share and remember the lives of those lost in the past year.

Executive Director Mary McKenna said the group’s mission is to do “everything we can” to make our patients’ lives meaningful.

“Some unique examples include providing a birthday party and a bicycle for a young daughter whose single mother was dying,” McKenna said previously to Port Arthur Newsmedia. “This last birthday party with her mother became a memorable one. On another occasion, we worked with the Red Cross to have a son return home from the military in time to say goodbye to his father who was dying.”

Those personal touches are key. We can’t ever get to the point of treating our aging population like numbers to be stacked away in a filing cabinet.

That’s why I enjoyed my conversation this week with hospice social worker Paula Tacker.

We had a chance to speak Wednesday about Ray J. Fontenot, 101-year-old Southeast Texan under local hospice care who also happens to be a World War II Veteran.

Fontenot is also sharp as a tack, recently sharing with our media group his feelings as the United States entered the way — “disturbing and worrisome.”

He did not want to be drafted, especially not liking the idea of being told where to go, so he enlisted as a way to control his future, electing to join the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Tacker is one of a team of Southeast Texas Hospice staffers who knows Fontenot personally.

“We love him,” she told me. “He has become family to us, and we have become family to him.”

Tacker lit up when speaking about Fontenot, noting he is “just hilarious.”

“He calls one of our nurses, she is the youngest one, ‘juvenile,’” she said. “Everything you tell him, he remembers it and asks you about it.”

She admits Fontenot does get frustrated with some of his ailments but remains “precious” in the eyes of those who care for him.

Ray J. Fontenot smiles while sitting next to a gift during a recent birthday celebration. (Courtesy photo)

The connections made with patients who become friends are obvious when dealing with Southeast Texas Hospice, as well as with all others who work or volunteer in similar fields.

A related group I recently learned of is the Texas Long-Term Care Ombudsman run under the Area Agency on Aging of South East Texas.

They recruit, train, certify and oversee Volunteer Ombudsmen, who visit with nursing home residents weekly and advocate for resident rights and quality of care.

Those with a passion to become caring and dedicated volunteers complete a 36-hour training course that includes classroom, self-study and in-facility training.

After completion of training, the volunteer visits a facility once a week from 1 to 2 hours, spending time visiting with residents.

Volunteers can make their own schedules, as it is flexible to set the time when they visit.

Officials say volunteers are needed from across Southeast Texas, with the greatest opportunity in either Vidor or Beaumont.

The next training is planned Aug. 16 and 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission in Beaumont.

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering and becoming a Certified Ombudsman, call Nancy Seegers at 409-899-8444, Ext. 6372.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes and The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at or 409-721-2445.