Editor’s note: This article appeared as part of the health care coverage in the Bellingham Business Journal’s March 2015 print issue.
In 2013 Preble Poland, 85, spent most of his time in a recliner. His progressive dementia, poor eyesight and poor hearing made it hard to even watch TV or read.
Preble was regressing and his wife Eva, 79, felt like she wasn’t doing enough to keep his brain working.
“Most of the time he’d go to sleep unless I engaged him,” Eva said. “As a caregiver, that’s very difficult because of the fact that I’m responsible for everything in both of our lives.”
In January 2014, Eva started taking Preble to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center’s Adult Day Health program, which aims to keep seniors living in their homes as long as possible by providing them with care during the day. The program’s activities stimulated Preble and gave him a chance to interact with adults with similar conditions. Preble loves the program and it has made him more alive and alert, Eva said.
In July, seven months after Preble enrolled in Adult Day Health, PeaceHealth announced plans to close the program at the end of 2014, citing the need to cut costs and close the South Campus building that houses Adult Day Health.
Eva didn’t have a backup plan. She thought she would go back to caring for Preble herself and he would probably regress. Instead, Christian Health Care Center, a nonprofit nursing and rehab facility in Lynden, took over management of the 37-year-old program at the beginning of the year.
For now, the program is still at PeaceHealth’s South Campus building in a nearly windowless former operating room that Christian Health Care Center is renting from PeaceHealth for $1 a month, said Anita Tallman, director of Christian Health Care Center. This summer, the program will move into a new 5,730-square-foot facility in Lynden that Christian Health Care Center designed for Adult Day Health.
When construction is finished, the new facility will have windows, a fenced-yard, more rooms and other features that the current facility doesn’t have. The same eight employees who staffed the program when it was operated by PeaceHealth will stay with the program in Lynden, Tallman said.
“They’re just making a state of the art center,” said Mary Lynn Palmer, a registered nurse who has worked with the program for 23 years. “We’re thankful to have had this space, but to look at those plans and realize we’re going to have a huge yard with a tall fence so everyone will be safe, and we’re going to have picnic tables and a walking trail — those are things we have dreamed of.”
The new center will have more separate rooms than the program’s current space. Adult Day Health staff frequently break up the program’s participants into small groups for activities like painting, solving puzzles, story telling and “brain jogger” groups for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, Palmer said.
Tallman doesn’t plan to make any changes to Adult Day Health, at least not at first.
“My motto is don’t mess it up, just let them go,” she said. “Mary Lynn and her crew, it’s not just what they do but how they do it. They have tremendous heart and there’s a calmness and a feeling of safety. It’s a safe harbor for people who are alone and need help.”
Tallman had been thinking about starting an Adult Day Health program for a couple years before PeaceHealth dropped its program, she said. She calls Adult Day Health and similar programs that keep seniors in their homes the future of health care for seniors. Without the program, most patients would be in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, she said.
In 2010, nursing home care cost more than $200 per day on average, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet. Adult Day Health costs $67.
“I don’t think anyone has done a financial analysis or otherwise it would be better funded,” Tallman said.
Currently, the program is funded entirely through the $67 a day fee. Christian Health Care Center is looking into grants and other funding opportunities for the future.
For $67, program participants get care from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a bus ride to the facility, a hot meal, and care from eight employees, including registered nurses and occupational therapists. Staff provides special care for those with dementia and other memory loss, which includes about 60 of the program’s 78 participants.
The program also offers lectures and support groups for patients’ family members. Speakers discuss things like planning activities at home and grieving.
Program staff decided at a retreat years ago that patients’ caregivers are almost the primary customer of the program, Palmer said.
“A lot of the caregivers put their needs on the back burner,” Palmer said. “I don’t think they know how worn out they are and how tired they are.”
Eva regularly attends a caregiver support group.
“It helps me to understand that some of the things I thought were odd are not odd at all,” she said.
For example, Preble likes to walk directly behind Eva rather than beside her, she said. She found out at the support group that that’s because he can see her better that way, and many other Adult Day Health patients do the same thing.
Eva’s husband Preble hasn’t noticed the switch in the program’s management, but Eva worries about how he will do when the program moves to Lynden.
“I think it will be nice because I understand their facility will really be nice, but Preble is not too crazy about taking a bus,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without the program. I would be willing to drive to Lynden everyday because it makes the quality of life for both of us better.”
Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.