Highgate could offer Adult Day Care service in Bellingham starting in January

A Bellingham assisted living center is offering to fill the gap in services for a small number of people affected by PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center’s decision to close a program that serves chronically ill and disabled adults in Whatcom County.

PeaceHealth told clients in late July it would stop operating its Adult Day Health program Dec. 31, an announcement that surprised and upset the family members who care for those adults.

Highgate Senior Living plans to start offering the service, starting in January, should efforts fail to convince PeaceHealth to continue its Adult Day Health program or to get another provider to open in Bellingham.

Called Adult Day Care, Highgate’s would be a less-intensive approach than PeaceHealth has used. It would be available for up to 10 people a day.

“We want to help if we can and if we’re needed,” said Linda Fisher, executive director for Highgate. “I’m not intending to compete with any provider who wants to come along and open an Adult Day Health in Bellingham.”

In late July, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center told clients it planned to end its 37-year-old program. Services include skilled nursing and occupational therapy, social and activity groups, hot lunch, and programs for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The aim is to help people stay in their homes and out of more expensive care, such as nursing homes, and to provide a break for their family caregivers during the hours the clients are in the program, which is in PeaceHealth’s South Campus in Bellingham.

The PeaceHealth program has 78 clients. Of that total, 60 have some form of dementia.

Worried caregivers and advocates have formed a task force and are pushing to keep the program going in Bellingham. Fisher is on that task force.

“We were brainstorming: What do we do? How do we fill this gap in between? We’re looking at all kinds of options,” she said.

If Highgate does offer the service, it would do so to fewer clients than those served by PeaceHealth. It also would do so as a social model versus PeaceHealth’s medical model.

That means, for example, that Highgate’s program would offer meals, activities and help with tasks of daily living, such as grooming, but wouldn’t do diabetic management.

“We wouldn’t be giving them insulin shots or things like that,” Fisher explained.

Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing between PeaceHealth and Christian Health Care Center to keep the service going on a temporary basis in Bellingham. That’s an attempt to shorten the gap between when the PeaceHealth program ends and when Christian Health builds its facility in Lynden to serve this population.