COVID-19 May Close Tulare County's Only Licensed Adult Day Care Center
Last updated 1/13/2021 at 9:26pm | View PDF
They cannot wear face masks. They do not understand social distancing. They would not be able to remember to take their temperature if they
tried. Even the names of their spouses and their children sometimes escape them.
They are the silent victims of COVID-19 and in California, there are 690,000 of them – men and women over the age of 65 with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Those who take care of them say the pandemic, specifically shelter-in-place orders, have caused physical and mental regressions in an already vulnerable
COVID is also financially devastating and threatening the existence of adult day care centers that help those with Alzheimer's and other dementias,
and make it possible for caregivers, some of whom are essential workers, to go to work and balance the intense demands of being a caregiver.
"This virus has all but taken everything out from under our feet," said Kayla Muller, executive director of Valley Adult Day Services (VADS) in Porterville.
Valley Adult Day Services, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit in existence for 30 years, is the only adult day care center in Tulare County licensed by the state. The center offers participants daily activities including exercise, writing, math, etc., while caregivers run errands, take a break or work.
Recently though, the state's strict requirements for operating the center amid the pandemic, has cut the center's number of participants from 30 to just 10 – which is hardly enough to make ends meet, says Richard Eckhoff, chairman of VADS' Board of Directors.
But when the center put out the word that they might have to close, the community responded. "One lady brought in a check and said, 'You can't close.
You're too important,'" said Muller.
The center now has the funds to stay open through the end of the year, but more donations will be needed to keep it going.
Prior to the pandemic, many were already concerned with the lack of adult day services in Tulare County. Kaweah Delta Health Care District, which operates the largest acute care hospital between Bakersfield and Fresno, along with Quail Park, which offers retirement communities and memory care
in Visalia, were actively working with VADS to evaluate expansion into Visalia.
"Adult day care services are of significant value to our community," said Marc Mertz, vice president and chief strategy officer of Kaweah Delta. "These
centers can be extremely beneficial to participants, and can often help ensure that someone can remain living at home rather than move into a residential center. They are also very helpful to family members and caregivers, who need a break from around-the-clock care and supervision."
Already, the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have caused irreparable damage to Alzheimer's patients and VADS participants. When
VADS closed for three months following the governor's order, it meant that participants including Rebecca Carley had no place to go during the day
while loved ones were at work.
Rebecca's husband, Michael, tried for weeks but ultimately could not safely manage her care while on videoconferencing calls for work and overseeing
his son's video conferencing calls for school. She was also having trouble with balance.
"It was less safe for her to be at home," said Michael.
So Michael made one of the hardest decisions of his life – placing his wife in a full-time skilled nursing facility.
On May 13, Michael and his 12-year-old son drove Rebecca to the facility, with a box of her belongings and one-page introduction for the staff, a couple of family photos, and a note saying, "Rebecca loves art and beautiful things, pugs, scuba diving, Shrek, Aquaman and Star Trek."
On June 27, she died as a result of COVID-19.
"It's amazing and heartbreaking," said Michael, who after that day never saw his wife again in person due to visitor restrictions.
Rebecca tested positive for COVID on June 22, her 51st birthday. She had a hard time adjusting, wasn't eating well and had lost one-third of her
body weight, Michael said.
"There wasn't COVID in the facility when she was placed, but once it got in, it was hard to prevent it from spreading," he said.
Michael says he will remember Rebecca, not as the person she was in her final days, but as the wife, mother, musician, artist and avid scuba diver she was before the disease took hold of her. He doesn't blame the pandemic for her death, instead he speaks to the value of adult day care centers such as VADS.
"They gave me another year-and-a-half with my wife at home," he said. "Without their service, I would have been faced with a decision to either quit my job or have her placed in a residential center in 2018."
Caregivers such as Michael pay less than $5 an hour for their loved one to be in day care for up to 10 hours. But the fate of VADS could turn with financial support, Muller said.
Muller said community support would ensure that an adult day care center remains a choice for caregivers in Tulare County.
"We work really hard to make sure that when someone comes in, we're going to make them safe," he said. "There is a financial component to this and unfortunately, we're looking at devastating times when it comes to our client and the caregiver. We've been an outlet for them and we don't know
how much longer that can continue."
Many cannot imagine what life will be like for both caregivers and those who have Alzheimer's or dementia if Valley Adult Day Services had to close
its doors, including Jennifer Corum, a Visalia resident and a newly appointed Valley Adult Day Services Board Member.
Her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2015 at the age of 65.
"My mom was really in a desperate place when my dad was diagnosed and the day program was a light in a dark place," she said. "We were terrified
and desperate. We knew we needed care for him, but we didn't know how to do that in an affordable way. This center bridges the gap for so many who are not able to put their loved one in a facility."
Valley Adult Day Services is located at 227 E. Oak Ave. in Porterville. For more information or to make a donation, visit ValleyAdultDayServices.org or call (559) 783-9815.
Donations can also be made through a GoFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/f/valleyadult-day-services. The web page allows people to make a
donation to Valley Adult Day Services by using a credit card or paying through a Paypal account.
"Any donation will help make an impact," said campaign organizer Bob Patel.