Valley Adult Day Services in Porterville says state COVID protocols are threatening its ability to care for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, its primary source of funding
PORTERVILLE – 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, namely shelter-in-place orders, have caused physical and mental regressions in an already vulnerable population. 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) located in Porterville.
A tax exempt nonprofit in existence for 30 years, VADS 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—that’s hardly enough to make ends meet.
“We will run out of funds by the end of the year,” VADS chairman Richard Eckhoff said, noting that the decrease in patients has left the center facing a monthly $18,000 to $20,000 deficit.
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 from Bakersfield to Fresno and offers a wide variety of healthcare services in the Central Valley, 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. 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,” Kaweah Delta VP and chief strategy officer Marc Mertz said. “They are also very helpful to family members and caregivers, who need a break from providing 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 tried for weeks but ultimately could not safely manage her care while on videoconferencing calls for work and overseeing his son’s videoconferencing calls for school. She was also having trouble with balance.
“It was less safe for her to be at home,” said Michael, Rebecca’s husband.
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, she 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.”
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 a 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. 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,” he said. Michael has since joined the Valley Adult Day Services Board, serving as Secretary.
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,” Muller 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, Calif. For more information on VADS, please visit ValleyAdultDayServices.org or call 559-783-9815.