New center for adult day health services opening in Lynden

Northwest Regional Council planners Michael Dunckel, left, and Kim Boon inspect the new Northwest Adult Day Health & Wellness Center with Anita Tallman, executive director of Christian Health Care Center, and activity coordinator and manager Mary Wynstra in Lynden on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The facility will open Monday, Aug. 3.
Northwest Regional Council planners Michael Dunckel, left, and Kim Boon inspect the new Northwest Adult Day Health & Wellness Center with Anita Tallman, executive director of Christian Health Care Center, and activity coordinator and manager Mary Wynstra in Lynden on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. The facility will open Monday, Aug. 3. The Bellingham Herald

The adult day health program that has been in Bellingham for about 38 years will pack up this weekend and move north, opening in the new Northwest Adult Day Health & Wellness Center on Monday, Aug. 3.

The services for chronically ill and disabled adults will be in a 5,700-square-foot center at 851 Aaron Drive in Lynden starting next week, next to the Christian Health Care Center nursing home. It cost a little over $1 million to build.

Christian Health will offer adult day health services to all Whatcom County residents out of the new space.

Demand has been high already.

“It is greater than we anticipated, right from the beginning,” said Anita Tallman, director of Christian Health Care Center.

Why did the adult day health program leave Bellingham?

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center told clients in late July 2014 it would stop operating its Adult Day Health program that Dec. 31 — after 37 years in Bellingham — an announcement that surprised and upset the family members who care for those adults. PeaceHealth was the only organization offering such services to Whatcom County residents, and the families didn’t know what organization, if any, would pick up the program.

Then Christian Health Care Center said it would take over those services and move them to northern Whatcom County this summer at the Northwest Adult Day Health & Wellness Center.

Until then, they were offered at PeaceHealth’s South Campus on East Chestnut Street.

Under an agreement that began at the start of 2015, PeaceHealth leased that space to Christian Health Care Center for a nominal amount and agreed to provide program assistance and operational support, such as food, security and janitorial services.

What services are provided by the adult day health program?

They include skilled nursing and occupational therapy, social and activity groups, and a hot lunch.

Such programs help people with chronic health conditions, including memory loss, depression, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

The goal is to help older adults continue living in their homes instead of needing more expensive care, such as that at nursing homes, prematurely, and to provide a break for their family caregivers during the hours the clients are in the program.

About 78 clients were served in Bellingham. Of that total, 60 have some form of dementia.

Betsy Gross, a Bellingham resident whose 72-year-old husband John has Alzheimer’s disease, said the service has allowed her husband to remain at home.

“If it weren’t for adult day health, John would be in institutional care,” Gross said. “I can barely manage him at home now. If it weren’t for adult day health, I don’t know what I would do.”

Is there a fee for the service?

Yes. Funding comes from a number of sources including clients themselves, Medicaid, scholarships, veterans benefits and insurance.

What do caregivers think of the new center in Lynden?

They like it.

When PeaceHealth said it planned to stop offering services, worried caregivers like Gross and Varya Fish formed a task force that at first pushed to keep the program going in Bellingham and then worked with Tallman on the center in Lynden.

Gross and Fish, whose 80-year-old husband Bud has Alzheimer’s disease, were among those who toured Northwest Adult Day Health during an open house in July.

“I think that Christian Health Care Center did everything right. It’s a beautiful building,” Gross said. “I have not heard anything negative from any caregiver. Everybody is enthusiastic about it.”

Fish also liked what she saw during the open house.

“I’m 100 percent thrilled — the design, the layout, the feel, the color scheme, the committed individuals that I know are going to be there to help my husband. It’s just the most beautiful setting,” Fish said. “I remain optimistic it’s going to work well. Bud feels it will.”

Fish added: “Blessings to Anita Tallman for making this happen. There were other people, too, but she’s just an amazing woman.”

Tallman for her part praised a much larger effort.

“It was extraordinary how the whole community came together and how the different agencies in the community came together,” Tallman said. “It’s a testimony to the importance of this program and how great the need is. People want to preserve the program. The program strikes a nerve with people.”

Those who have helped included advocates and the task force, Whatcom Transportation Authority, Christ the King Community Church, Rotary International and Mount Baker Rotary for supplying appliances for the new kitchen in Lynden, architect Mark Bratt and builder Exxel Pacific.

What plan was created to transport clients from Bellingham up to Lynden?

Families were concerned about having their loved ones in Bellingham, including those who are fragile, travel farther to Lynden.

So a group that included the WTA came up with a solution.

WTA will pick up clients who want them to, as they do now, in smaller paratransit buses. They will be taken to a drop-off point at Christ the King Community Church in Bellingham, which will serve as a transportation hub, and then all put onto one larger bus, along with three Northwest Adult Day Health employees, for the ride north. The return trip will be the same, just in reverse.

The workers will greet the clients and make sure they’re safe during the ride to Lynden.

“We want the clients to be entertained and to break up that long trip,” Tallman said, adding workers will do things like point out sights along the way and make the trip more enjoyable by singing songs for example.

Caregivers appreciated the effort by WTA and the Lynden center.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s quite a ways away,” Gross said, “but they have done everything they can to make that not such a big, awful thing. Everyone is very impressed that they did everything in their power to mitigate that long bus ride.”

The group also is working on a plan to transport people in the northern parts of the county, who previously couldn’t get to Bellingham for adult day health services, to the Lynden center.

WTA turned over two smaller paratransit buses that were retired to Northwest Adult Day Health. They will be used to transport clients from Lynden and Everson. In the future, those buses could be used to take people from Birch Bay and Blaine.

“Many of these people have not been able to attend the program previously due to lack of transportation,” said Mary Lynn Palmer, program development coordinator for Northwest Adult Day Health.

Palmer is among the six, out of a total of seven employees, who used to work in the adult day health program under PeaceHealth who will be working in Lynden.

About that growing demand for services ...

Northwest Adult Day Health, for now, is offering services during one session a day, for five days a week Monday through Friday.

A total of 57 people can be served per session. Tallman didn’t yet know whether the program was going to hit that maximum capacity.

The center will consider expanding services after the move.

“We have to get settled in,” she said.

Possibilities included adding a second session during the weekday, or adding services on the weekend.

There could be a satellite location in Bellingham, although Tallman said Christian Health hasn’t yet had formal discussions about that.

“Informally, we’ve talked about that need and looking to that as our next project,” she said. “I think that has to happen, whether it’s us or someone else.”

Are the support groups for caregivers moving, too?

One is. The daytime support group will meet in Lynden starting in September. They will meet the second and fourth Tuesday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Family caregivers are invited to attend. Questions: 360-306-3031.

The evening support group for adults who are caring for a parent with dementia will stay at the South Campus. They will meet on the second Wednesday of each month from 6 to 7:30 pm. Questions: Call Julie Johnson at 360-676-6749.

How do I contact Northwest Adult Day Health?

Phone: 360-306-3031.

Web: nwadultdayhealth.com.

Facebook: The center has a page there as well.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.