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Caregivers’ Cove hits the shoals

Standing from top left, North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove client Delores King, Executive Director Kristi Huffman and client Molly Houlihan gather before an outdoor activity at the center this summer. After one and a half years, the adult day respite center was forced to close its doors Friday from lack of funding.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Standing from top left, North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove client Delores King, Executive Director Kristi Huffman and client Molly Houlihan gather before an outdoor activity at the center this summer. After one and a half years, the adult day respite center was forced to close its doors Friday from lack of funding.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Though the organization celebrated the opening of a second location just a few short months ago, North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove, the adult day respite program that’s been in Oak Harbor for about a year and a half, was forced to officially close its doors Friday.

Caregivers’ Cove was a nonprofit organization that functioned as a daycare service for adults who need special attention, such as those confined to wheelchairs or suffering from dementia. It was open four days each week, allowing caregivers a safe place to take their loved ones when they had appointments, other errands or could not fully attend to them.

Executive Director Kristi Huffman said the need to close can be contributed to a combination of factors. This year, Caregivers’ Cove lost $18,000 in city funding and failed to received some necessary grants. Though the organization did regularly receive monthly donations of about $100 to $200 from community members, the money wasn’t nearly enough to even cover payroll expenses.

But Huffman said the main reason Caregivers’ Cove wasn’t able to survive was simply lack of use.

“We just weren’t picking up enough clients,” Huffman said. “You could look at it and say we’re serving clients, but not enough to make budget ... I always thought we could continue to hang on until the community decided they wanted the service, so it was a shame when we realized we weren’t going to make it.”

Huffman had seven clients who regularly depended on the respite center. With its closure, the clients’ next best option is to travel a few dozen miles to the north or south.

“Unfortunately now that there’s nothing here in Oak Harbor, they’ll have to drive to Anacortes or to Time Together on South Whidbey and a lot of people just can’t do that,” board president Mark Forbes said. “They’re devastated. This has changed their world.”

Caregivers’ Cove had also recently launched a program specifically for adults who are developmentally delayed. Huffman said there was a lot of interest in the program, but just as it was getting off the ground, the organization ran out of money.

“Once kids hit 21, they have to leave the high school and there’s nothing for them,” Huffman said. “They’re just sitting at home and have nothing to do. Sometimes their families need to rest and they need activities. We could have given them all those things.”

Huffman said she doesn’t understand why caregivers in Oak Harbor didn’t take advantage of the respite services while they were available, especially because of the city’s increasing elderly population. As respite centers in surrounding cities like Anacortes, Bellingham and Everett continued to thrive, Caregivers’ Cove in Oak Harbor  struggled to stay afloat.

Huffman thinks people on North Whidbey may be more self-reliant than in other communities and have a “we-can-take-care-of-this-ourselves” kind of attitude, which she believes can lead to a caregiver’s undoing.

“There are some places that just aren’t ready for these kinds of services, and Oak Harbor is one of those places,” she said.

In the future, Huffman said she hopes to revisit the program for developmentally delayed adults and see if she can make it work with some restructuring and new funding sources. But for now the Caregivers’ Cove building will be used by senior services to teach classes and by the foot clinic.

Forbes and Huffman said they extend sincere gratitude to the program’s board of directors, including Jim Self and Allan Swan, Mike McIntyre of Senior Services, Mayor Jim Slowik, members of the Oak Harbor City Council, HomePlace Special Care and Regency.

“Mostly, I’d like to thank the staff and the interns,” Huffman said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have made it this far.”

 

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