Veteran Health-Care Providers Join Forces to Revitalize Adult Day Health Care Program

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2009 16:04

The first thing you notice about Sharon Fernandes, 63, is her jaunty purple cap and the glitter on her cheeks. At Adult Day Health Care, the Columbia resident admits, “I’m kind of the class clown.”

But there’s a back story to that cheerful front. The former theater manager got diabetes in her 40s, suffered a heart attack at 57, and in the same time period, she says, suffered such trauma from finding her roommate dead that “I was practically catatonic.”

The staff here, and the friendships she formed, brought her back. The 20-year-old Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) program provides medical, nutritional and social support to those with chronic illnesses or disability – at the same time, giving their at-home caregivers a break.

Fernandes can’t believe how few people know about the program, which is transitioning from Tuolumne County operation to private providers – Dr. Bob Uslander and Kathryn Johnston. But the need for such services is growing. By 2010, the Area 12 Agency on Aging estimates, more than 19,000 of Tuolumne County’s 57,000 residents will be 60 or older.

“The need is there and the numbers are there,” says Uslander, a Sonora emergency room physician.

He and Johnston – who co-own Seniority Lifecare, providing in-home care to seniors – have an interim contract with the county to run ADHC, one of 350 such programs statewide. License transfer is expected to be final next January. The Sonora center adjoins Tuolumne General’s Long-Term Care facility at 101 Hospital Rd., near the main Sonora Post Office.

For Johnston, this is familiar turf. She managed ADHC from 1995-2000, when it peaked at 41 clients a day; daily census now is about 20. The center’s staff helps elderly and disabled clients control chronic health problems by close monitoring, therapy, and pain management. The goal is to help people live at home for as long as possible, and out of more costly assisted-living and skilled-nursing care.

Uslander says 80 percent of those attending qualify for Medi-Cal, which reimburses the program at $76 a day per person; the private-pay rate is $79 per day. Attracting new clients is the top priority, he notes, to ensure the program’s success. The county and Area 12 both continue to subsidize the program; Area 12 provides a subsidy for dementia-related care, involving about a fourth of ADHC clients, Johnston says.

Uslander oversees care plans created by a team that includes a registered nurse, social worker, and physical, occupational and speech therapists. But health care is only part of it. “A critical factor is the social aspect, providing them with a group of people who welcome them and create a community for them,” he notes.

Their goal, Johnston says, is to recruit volunteers and community support to build a vibrant, intergenerational program “where as soon as a client walks in the door, people welcome them with open arms.”

For Sharon Fernandez, that kind of support has been a lifesaver.

“We come through the door with our disabilities,” Fernandes says, “and we leave them out there. We all know we’re safe here, and that’s a big deal.”

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2009 16:04
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