EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 30, 2013

Program for seniors may end

Future in jeopardy of money-losing adult day-care services

By Doug Ireland

---- — BRENTWOOD — A longtime senior citizen program spared from elimination by Rockingham County commissioners last winter may not survive another year.

Commissioners will consider the program’s future when they meet Friday, creating anxiety for families of the 18 members of the financially strapped Helen F. Wilson Adult Medical Day Program.

A vote whether to save or scrap the 33-year-old program is expected within the next several weeks, commissioners said. The program was given a deadline of Aug. 1 and then Friday to significantly boost its membership, but that didn’t happen.

Two of the three commissioners say the program, which provides social and medical services to the elderly, may not be worth saving because it continues to lose thousands of dollars a year.

“It’s not that these people aren’t important,” Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Derry said. “We are competing against the private sector, and we are not doing well.”

Coyle said numerous privately run programs in the county offer the same service without burdening taxpayers.

“If it breaks even, I’m fine with keeping it,” he said.

But the problem is the program, which costs $278,000 to operate this year. is losing between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, Coyle said.

Commission Chairman Katharin Pratt of Hampton has said the deficit is closer to $100,000.

Supporters of the program, including Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown, and members of the county’s legislative delegation, say it’s only losing about $40,000 a year.

Tombarello and state Rep. Debra DeSimone, R-Atkinson, said yesterday the program is too valuable to cut even if it is losing money.

DeSimone is the head of a five-member legislative subcommittee asked to evaluate the program.

“I’m for saving the program, 100 percent,” Tombarello said.

“Unfortunately, if we closed everything that lost money. we would be out of business.”

The adult day-care program offers social activities and medical services to senior citizens while providing respite for caregivers.

The program costs $71 a day compared to more than $300 a day to place senior citizens at the county nursing home, he said.

Tombarello said the county is obligated to provide the service to its elderly residents.

DeSimone said the subcommittee supports saving the program as well. She said the county hasn’t done enough to market the program to attract new members, freezing membership for three months after fiscal concerns about the program were raised in January.

“I’m concerned if we close it,” she said. “Where would they go? We have our seniors who need an adult day program so they can be safe.”

One of those senior citizens is 91-year-old Elizabeth Jones, who lives with her daughter, Nancy Russo of Epping.

Jones needed live-saving medical care on two occasions while attending the program because her blood pressure suddenly dropped, Russo said.

Jones, who attends three times a week, said she’s thankful for the social opportunities provided by the program. 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.”