Adult Day Health to stay in Bellingham until summer 2015

The Adult Day Health program will continue in its current location in Bellingham into summer 2015, when a nursing home is expected to start offering those services at its new building in Lynden.

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center told clients in a letter dated Friday, Oct. 10, that the program would temporarily stay at its South Campus after striking a deal with Christian Health Care Center of Lynden.

“We are pleased to announce that there will be no gap in service for existing Adult Day Health clients,” Dale Zender, PeaceHealth chief administrative officer, stated in the letter.

PeaceHealth will lease the South Campus space to Christian Health Care Center for a “nominal amount (we are essentially donating the use of the space),” Zender stated.

During the interim, PeaceHealth will provide program assistance and operational support such as food, security and janitorial services, he added.

The seven employees in the PeaceHealth program will be offered employment by Christian Health Care Center.

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.

“I sincerely apologize for the stress and anxiety that the original decision may have caused,” Zender stated, “and I applaud Christian Health Care Center for its leadership and willingness to collaborate on a solution to bridge the gap in service and location.”

The Adult Day Health 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.

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

PeaceHealth officials said they were ending the program for a number of financial reasons, and because they planned to close their outdated South Campus and consolidate operations onto their Main Campus. In his letter, Zender also noted: “Acute care hospital providers such as PeaceHealth St. Joseph represent the most costly provider option due to our inherently high operating costs. Organizations like CHCC can provide similar services at a significantly lower cost.”

After hearing about PeaceHealth’s plan to close at the end of the year, worried caregivers and advocates formed a task force and pushed to keep the program going in Bellingham, either by changing PeaceHealth’s mind or bringing in a new provider. Members also didn’t want a gap in services, and they cheered the news that there wouldn’t be one.

“The task force will continue to work towards their second goal of getting a facility in Bellingham, but in the meantime we are extremely happy there will be no gap in services,” said Jayne Freudenberger, who helped start the task force and is co-advocacy chair of the League of Women Voters Bellingham/Whatcom County.

The league advocates for basic health care and promotes public awareness about assistance needs, according to Freudenberger.

Advocates have said that having such a service in the north county and the south county would be best, expressing concern about having fragile loved ones travel farther to Lynden.

Freudenberger said the agreement between PeaceHealth and Christian Health Care Center “gives us some breathing room” as task force members continue to search for another location and another provider for Bellingham.

“We are continuing to meet. PeaceHealth has generously offered to help us find a location,” she said. “We have high hopes of a caregiver coming to the forefront at this time.”

Task force member Betsy Gross, a Bellingham resident whose 71-year-old husband John has Alzheimer’s disease, also praised the decision and Zender for the apology.

“This additional act of contrition enhances my opinion of PeaceHealth. It is hard to admit to being wrong and changing course, and only the courageous do so,” she said.

“Thanks go to Christian Health Care Center, who have stepped up to meet the need in our community for this service,” Gross added. “Kudos also go to PeaceHealth for revisiting their decision to unilaterally close this program in the first place. Both organizations demonstrated their flexibility, moral courage and compassion with this important partnership.”