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Support wanes for Oak Harbor adult day care

Traci Summerland, Day Break program assistant, plays a game of cards with Michael Cathey Tuesday afternoon. - Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times
Traci Summerland, Day Break program assistant, plays a game of cards with Michael Cathey Tuesday afternoon.
— image credit: Jenny Manning / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor’s adult day care may be skating on thin ice.

Senior Services of Island County sent a letter to Mayor Jim Slowik in August withdrawing its “financial and operational support” from the Day Break Adult Day Services program at the end of this year, and two city council members spoke at a recent meeting against keeping the program.

The program served approximately 40 people in 2008, said Day Break Director Kristi Huffman, who estimates the program provided respite for about 50 caregivers last year.

In lieu of direct Senior Services support, city councilmen Eric Gerber, Rick Almberg and Jim Campbell discussed a proposal to contract with a new nonprofit, “North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove,” at a Governmental Services Standing Committee meeting Monday morning. Standing committee meetings allow city staff the opportunity to brief a group of three council members on upcoming council agenda bills.

In this case, Oak Harbor Senior Services Director Mike McIntyre and Steve Powers, the city’s Development Services director, recommend the council vote to authorize Slowik to sign an $18,000-per-year, three-year contract with North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove, which was created by McIntyre and a four-member board of directors.

But there was no consensus on the issue at the standing committee meeting.

The new agreement would decrease the city’s direct cost of $24,000 this year to $18,000 next year, which is the same amount the city paid in 2008; expand Day Break’s services from three days per week, six hours a day to five days per week, eight hours a day; and add new services such as caregiver training, workshops, library resources and support group, Powers said.

If the council follows city staff’s recommendation to contract with North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove, the Day Break program will continue. If the council does not vote in favor of the proposal, the program may come to an end.

In May 2003, the city followed a similar program including a five-day-per-week program, caregiver classes and support group, and local marketing to increase Day Break’s visibility in an effort to grow its client base, according to city documents. But some say the effort failed.

“This didn’t work in 2003 and it won’t work now,” Councilman Gerber said. “We’ve had a lot of noble efforts made to make this program run, but I still haven’t seen the difference in what we’re going to do next year and what we’ve done in the past.

“Part of the program is to attract clients,” Gerber continued. “If they couldn’t get enough last year, what makes you think we’re going to get enough this year? We need to see a business plan that extends beyond a year.”

Over the past 10 years, the city has spent between $300,000 and $500,000 in budgeted funds to support the program, said Gerber in an interview Monday afternoon. But he said roughly half a million dollars have also come out of the reserve fund and through indirect costs during the same time period, effectively doubling the cost of Day Break.

About a year and a half ago, McIntyre reported that he spends about 25 percent of his time on Day Break, according to Gerber. That amount of time would amount to roughly $250,000 of indirect costs over the course of a decade, Gerber said.

McIntyre explained that he reported that a quarter of his time was spent on adult day respite because he was busy with the organization of North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove. After the program was established, McIntyre said a minimal amount of his time is now spent on Day Break.

Gerber remains convinced that Day Break is draining funds from the city through indirect costs.

It’s safe to say that all three directors — Bridget (DeMuth), Howard (Thomas) and Mike (McIntyre) — all spent a significant amount of time on Day Break,” he said. “I’m definitely in favor of discontinuing this program.”

Councilman Almberg agreed.

“When I read the information here and do the math, it supports what Eric said,” Almberg said, explaining that the total cost amounts to more than $3,000 per user, per year.

“I don’t know of any other program that allocates that amount of money per person,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a mirage.”

Powers jumped in to defend the program.

“It’s unfair to refer to it as a mirage. You have folks working very hard to support a specific population. ... I won’t dispute the math with you, Rick, but it’s not just those people there during the day. It’s also the caregivers,” Powers said.

One goal of the program is to give caregivers a break from their difficult duties.

“I suggest that council not place a lot of stock in the (Senior Services of Island County) letter. The program did struggle financially for many years. Since 2006 the program has been different. It was not structured the same way as when it was city funded,” Powers said.

Councilman Campbell joined Powers to advocate for the program.

“I think this is money well spent,” he said. “There’s going to be growing pains.”

Campbell added a personal element to the discussion when he shared his experience in dealing with someone who uses Day Break’s services, and the respite it provides.

“Having the opportunity to get away from it for awhile is really a godsend,” he said.

Gerber said there are better ways to use the Day Break money and space.

“You have a senior center director that says they need a $5 million building. This would free up some space,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate that one of the proposals to end the program wasn’t presented by staff.”

The proposal to contract with North Whidbey Caregivers’ Cove will go before the council Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m.

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