EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 18, 2013

Caregivers fight to keep senior citizen program open

By Doug Ireland

---- — For Nancy Birdsall, Rockingham County’s adult medical day program has helped keep her 87-year-old father-in-law out of a nursing home.

For Nancy Russo, the program has meant the difference between life and death for her 91-year-old mother.

Both women are among a large group of caregivers fighting to keep the Helen F. Wilson Adult Medical Day Program in Brentwood open. The program started in 1980.

The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners is considering elimination of the 24-member program to shore up a rising county budget.

But getting rid of the program would have a detrimental impact on families who rely on it to help their aging loved ones, said Birdsall, a Kingston resident.

“I wouldn’t know what to do if it wasn’t for them,” Birdsall said. “It’s very difficult. Sometimes, you need a break.”

Birdsall said the program has been beneficial for her father-in-law, who has various health problems. He receives immediate attention when he attends the day program.

If not for the program, Birdsall said her family would have to consider placing him in a nursing home to get the around-the-clock medical care he needs. He currently lives in her home.

To afford nursing care, the family would be forced to sell some of their property, she said.

“We are not in a position to put him in a nursing home at this point,” Birdsall said.

Russo, an Epping resident, said her family faces a similar dilemma.

Her mother enjoys socializing with other senior citizens about three times a week at the Brentwood center. She has twice needed livesaving medical care there when her blood pressure suddenly plummeted. When Rousseau’s father died in 2011, the program helped her mother get through that difficult time.

“It’s keeping more people mentally challenged and active emotionally,” she said. “They are all one great big group of friends there who are going through the same stage of life.”

Russo said she doesn’t want to have to put her mother in a nursing home.

The medical day program costs $71 a day compared to $350 a day for a nursing home, she said.

But the program’s $250,000 annual cost to taxpayers is a key reason why the program may be eliminated, according to County Commissioner Kevin Coyle of Londonderry.

“Our first concern is, it’s a pretty big number for only 24 families who use it,” Coyle said.”I continue to look out for taxpayers as a whole, not just 24 families.”

Approximately 20 people turned to support the program at a county budget hearing Jan. 24, with nearly a dozen speaking in support of keeping the program, Coyle said. A subcommittee has been formed to recommend whether the program should continue, he said.

Coyle and commission Chairman Katharin Pratt of Hampton said they will have to carefully consider whether the program is worth maintaining at a time when there are 13 area agencies that could provide a similar service. The program is fully funded through the rest of this year, they said.

“It’s been losing money for years,” Pratt said. “I totally understand the concerns of the families.”

Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown said he’s received approximately 40 letters and 15 calls from families of current and past members of the program, all asking that it be saved.

Tombarello said the pleas to save the program have convinced him it should be maintained.

“We do have to provide a service to the taxpayers,” he said. “I think it’s worth keeping.”

Coyle said commissioners will not likely make a decision about the program until spring.

If the program is discontinued, the county would work with the families to find suitable care, Pratt said.