BRENTWOOD — Rockingham County commissioners have decided to eliminate a longtime senior citizen program as of Dec. 31.
Commissioners voted, 2-1, on Tuesday to close the financially strapped Helen F. Wilson Adult Medical Day Program after 33 years, forcing 18 families to find new programs for loved ones.
“It was an irresponsible decision,” said Nancy Russo of Epping, whose 91-year-old mother, Elizabeth Jones, attends the program three days a week.
Russo said her mother is blind and relies heavily on the medical services provided by the program, which has helped keep her and other seniors out of the county nursing home.
Jones needed live-saving medical care on two occasions while attending the program because her blood pressure suddenly dropped, according to Russo.
Jones recently said she’s thankful for the program because it’s a chance to meet people her own age.
“I don’t know what I would do without it — it gives you something to look forward to,” she said. “We can get together and talk and joke and laugh a lot.”
Russo is not sure what to do next since many programs will not accept her mother because of her medical condition.
“I don’t have a clue what to do,” Russo said.
She said she was surprised to hear the news yesterday, finding out after she dropped her mother off for the day and went home. Advocates were scheduled to gather Dec. 6 to help drum up support for the program.
Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Londonderry and Chairwoman Katherin Pratt of Hampton voted to dissolve the program. Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown voted in opposition.
“I was 1,000 percent against it,” Tombarello said yesterday. “I think it would be a real bad move.”
Tombarello has said the county’s elderly residents deserve a program — even if it’s losing money — that provides the social and medical services they need.
The program costs $71 a day per senior, compared to more than $300 a day to place senior citizens at the county nursing home, he said.
But Coyle and Pratt have said the program, which costs $278,000 a year to operate, is not financially viable. They said the program is losing between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.
Coyle said yesterday it was failing to attract new members and the county was unable to compete with privately run programs in the county.
“I do feel bad for the seniors,” he said.
The program’s three full-time employee were informed of the decision yesterday morning and families were being notified, Coyle said.
Administrator Steven Woods did not return calls seeking comment. Pratt also could not be reached for comment.