Adult day care A-OK on 4-2 Oak Harbor council vote

Volunteer Marci Buskala, at left, and Day Break Director Kristi Huffman offer different textured fabrics and ribbons to Marlene Incarnado as a form of tactile sensory therapy. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey New-Times
Volunteer Marci Buskala, at left, and Day Break Director Kristi Huffman offer different textured fabrics and ribbons to Marlene Incarnado as a form of tactile sensory therapy.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey New-Times

The Day Break Adult Day Service program is here to stay, for now.

A passionate group of supporters shared their experiences with the program Tuesday evening during an Oak Harbor City Council meeting.

At issue was a proposal for Mayor Jim Slowik to sign an agreement with a new nonprofit, North Whidbey Caregivers' Cove, that would replace Day Break's current service provider, Senior Services of Island County.

The current provider's contract was set to expire after Jan. 1, 2010 due to lack of funding. If the council did not approve a contract with North Whidbey Caregivers' Cove, the decision could have resulted in the end of Oak Harbor's adult day services program.

Retired Navy Capt. John Worthington spoke of his mother's experience at Day Break over the last five years.

"Every time I pick her up she says, 'I had a great time with the girls,'" he said of his 88-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia.

"I apologize for getting so emotional," he said. "It's my mom."

Worthington wasn't the only misty-eyed speaker. Michael Radach spoke on behalf of his 33-year-old daughter, Crystal, who's attended the program since 1997.

"It's not a broken program. It's a well-functioning program," he said. "I know it's a small population, but it's really a program in its infancy."

As a caregiver, Radach described the much-needed respite Day Break provides both he and his wife by allowing them a few hours to spent time together or take a trip off-island.

Radach connected with the council on a personal level with a letter written the way in which his daughter would explain her situation.

"I speak on behalf of Crystal because she cannot speak for herself," he said.

The letter included a simple list of why his daughter enjoys Day Break.

"The people there treat me warmly. When I have a seizure, they protect me. They look me in the eyes ... " Radach said, taking a moment to gather himself, "That's my daughter."

"They look me in the eyes," he continued, "and respect me. I am loved at Day Break."

Mark Wyman, an active duty sailor, spoke on behalf of his 57-year-old mother Gayle, who suffers from Alzheimer's.

"It's been a lifesaver," he said. "I cannot begin to explain how awesome it is."

Gayle's caregiver, Corrina Smith, also addressed the council in support of Day Break's services.

"She lives to go there," Smith said, adding that the program is a wealth of information when she has a question on anything from state services to medical providers.

"It is probably my first source when I need a question answered," she said.

Shelly Zylstra, planning unit director of the Northwest Regional Council, came from Lynnwood to speak on behalf of adult day services that provide respite for caregivers. The Northwest Regional Council is an association of county governments that began in 1971 and serves Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

"The responsibility of government is to support those who are least able to support themselves," she said.

Seniors aren't the only people who need such assistance, Zylstra said. There's a growing population with traumatic brain injuries, especially among war veterans.

"Oak Harbor has a few," she reminded the City Council.

Zylstra said an adult day care program requires four components: diverse funding sources, experienced staff, a supportive community and a board to guide the program.

"In the past, there's always been weak links," she said of Oak Harbor's Day Break program, although this time the proposal looks strong.

There's already a diverse source of funding, the staff at Day Break is one of the best-trained teams, this program is one of 55 adult day care service facilities in the state, and the North Whidbey Caregivers' Cove board is solely focused on the needs of the program, she said.

The extended public comment session also included input from Fred Henninger, former Mayor Al Koetje, and Frank Moore, president of the Senior Services Advisory Board. An equally-thorough Q and A session followed between council members and Steve Powers, development services director.

"I'm going to tell you flat out that I agree with this," said Councilman Jim Campbell. "And if you don't agree, shame on you."

Councilwoman Beth Munns' comments also appeared in favor of the proposal.

Some people in the community want to put even more money toward youth programs, she said, adding that the city hasn't paid enough attention to its senior population.

Councilman Jim Palmer's comments fit in between the yay and nay-sayers.

"We're talking about $18,000 here. It does, on the surface, appear to be a lot of money," he said. "It would be nice to have more information."

Palmer reminded the council of its decision last September to take a gamble on the Whidbey Island Marathon.

"We did approve a $50,000 marathon without a business plan," he said. "I trust Mike McIntyre," referring to the Senior Services director.

Councilman Eric Gerber, however, confidently made the argument that an adult day service program is not something the city should meddle in.

"Steve Powers said this was new, but I beg to differ," he said.

"I sat on the Senior Center Advisory Board when I was first in office, but even back in 2001 we were talking about the same things we're talking about today."

At that point Mayor Slowik verbally jumped in to remind Gerber that the council is talking about 2010, not 2001, which pushed Gerber to remark on his misgivings for the current proposal.

"We still have not seen much of the information we've asked for," Gerber said, in reference to a business plan and list of board members that he requested at a governmental service standing committee meeting held earlier this month.

There was no direct effort to withhold the business plan, Powers said, rather the document doesn't exist yet in a tangible form. As for the North Whidbey Care Givers' Cove board, three of the four members were at the council meeting, including president Mark Ford, Jim Self and Allan Swan.

Councilman Rick Almberg sympathized with the caregivers and their families in attendance, but ultimately agreed with Gerber.

"I know the feelings and understand the burden ... but as a city council member I need to make it not as an emotional decision, but as a financial decision," he said.

"I want to see the program achieve success. I don't want to put money toward a program that may fail," Almberg said. "I can support this program if I see the business plan."

There are business plan-like ideas that have been verbalized, but there needs to be an established set of goals and a timetable, he said. "I would like to see this decision deferred to another meeting."

"I can't think of anything worse than to hand you a gift as you walk out of here only to take it away from you after a 60-day notice," he added.

Almberg also expressed concern over the county's ability to continue funding Oak Harbor's adult day services, but Powers assured him that the funding is secure.

The Island County commissioners intend to leave funding in place for the Day Break program, he said, adding that McIntyre spoke with the commissioners twice last week on behalf of Day Break.

McIntyre said the group has already raised $15,000 and there are at least three other possible contributors waiting on the council's decision.

Almberg made a motion to postpone the decision until the council's next meeting, Dec. 1, to allow staff time to draft a business plan. Gerber seconded the motion, but council voted it down 4 to 1 with Almberg and Gerber voting in favor and Campbell, Palmer, Munns and Severns against. Councilman Danny Paggao was absent.

Munns followed with a motion to allow the mayor to sign an agreement for $18,000 per year with North Whidbey Caregivers' Cove. Campbell seconded and the council approved the motion with a 4 to 2 vote with Campbell, Palmer, Munns and Severns for and Almberg and Gerber against.

The new agreement is for three years and decreases the city’s direct cost of $24,000 this year to $18,000 in 2009, 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.

The proposal's approval arrived nearly two hours into the council meeting and was met with spirited applause from a rare packed council chambers audience.

Kristi Huffman, the current director of Oak Harbor's Day Break program, will take over as executive director of North Whidbey Caregivers' Cove after the official transition on Jan. 1.

"I went into that meeting not really knowing what to expect," she said in an interview Wednesday morning. "I was honored to sit with the caregivers and participants when the 'yes' vote was made."

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