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North Whidbey respite in danger of closing

Kristi Huffman, left, helps Molly Houlihan participate in an exercise game at Caregivers’ Cove.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Kristi Huffman, left, helps Molly Houlihan participate in an exercise game at Caregivers’ Cove.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Low client numbers threaten to close North Whidbey’s only adult day respite and family caregiver resource center.

North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove is a nonprofit organization that functions as a daycare service for adults who need special attention, such as those confined to wheelchairs or suffering from dementia. It’s open four days each week between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., allowing caregivers a safe place to take their loved ones when they have appointments, other errands or cannot fully attend to them.

At Caregivers’ Cove, the adults are kept busy with discussion groups, memory games, field trips, live music, exercise programs and other hands-on activities like cooking, crafts and gardening.

Currently the Cove has only eight caregivers using its services, which forced Executive Director Kristi Huffman to lay off her only three staff members on Aug. 1. According to Huffman, if she hadn’t let them go, the Cove wouldn’t have been able to remain open through September.

Huffman said she can’t pinpoint why there aren’t more people taking advantage of the service.

“There are rumors going around that we’ve closed and that’s absolutely not true,” she said. “There are a lot of caregivers in this town. I should be swamped.”

Huffman thinks that because of the economic downturn, many caregivers may have lost their retirement funds or may be fearful about spending their nest eggs, but she said waiting to look into care services until a time of crisis can be dangerous and costly.

According to the Memory Wellness Study currently being conducted at Washington universities, many caregivers end up suffering from sleep deprivation, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, weight loss and alcohol abuse.

“Much like taking a daily aspirin to help prevent stroke or heart attack, using respite supports the health of the caregiver by affording them time to take care of their own life issues such as doctor appointments, home maintenance, recreation or whatever makes them feel whole,” Huffman said.

She believes that all too often caregivers wait until they reach a breaking point and then put their loved ones in long-term care, but that usually ends up being more expensive.

In Washington state, long-term care facilities charge $200 per day on average, which works out to be about $73,000 per year, Huffman said. Caregiver’s Cove costs clients $10 per hour.

The Cove currently has $15,000 in scholarship funds available for qualified clients. Additionally, Huffman said most people qualify for state aid.

“I want to help keep their money and their loved ones with them longer,” Huffman said.

For now, Huffman plans to try and stay open through the end of the year, and if more clients haven’t come by then, she said she’ll reassess whether Caregiver’s Cove is needed.

“I would love for the community to let me know why they don’t use the service, because I know it’s not for lack of caregivers,” she said. “That would help me make any necessary changes.”

The only other services similar to the Cove’s are Time Together in Bayview and Gentry House in Anacortes.

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