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Adult day care centers growing trend, lack state licensing

Supervised day care is not just for children anymore. It now embraces both ends of the age spectrum. The elderly population is the fastest-growing segment in the U.S., and the number of people over 65 years of age will grow to 53 million by 2020. Average life expectancy has increased and more households provide care to elderly persons.

There aren’t a lot of day healthcare centers for adults in Mississippi. It’s difficult to determine how many exist because there is no licensure required by the state. That’s something the Mississippi Adult Day Care Association is trying to change, according to the organization’s president Paula Mann. Twenty organizations, some private and some public, are involved in the association.

“We have a set of bylaws and refer anyone wanting to open an adult day care to different agencies,” she said. “We are backing state licensing and want to see the bill passed.”

For the past three years, Sen. Terry Burton (R-Newton) has introduced a bill that would bring licensing requirements under the State Department of Health. Each time it passes in the Senate and fails in the House of Representatives. Burton says the industry is working with him on guidelines.

“Those adult care centers operating properly have nothing to fear from licensing,” he said. “These centers are a terrific option to going into a nursing home.”

The senator will meet this summer and fall with members of the House and hopes to get some idea of why the bill is not passing. “I want to get the House committee chairmen to buy into it,” he said. “I will introduce it again, and I believe 2006 will be the magic year.”

Mann says there are some adult day care centers that might be closed after the bill passes. All existing centers will have an opportunity to modernize and come up to code. “It may be something like not having a sprinkler system in the ceiling,” she said. “The private centers will be hardest hit. The others already have strict guidelines.”

What would she look for if searching for an adult day care center for a loved one? She says it’s difficult without state licensing. However, a few guidelines include a staff to patient ratio of one to four, training/education of the staff, activities provided for patients, resources available and quality of mailouts to the family.

“You would want to visit and see whether or not patients are doing things or just sitting slumped over in their chairs,” she said. “I’m impressed by interaction with patients. Just because a place looks fancy doesn’t mean it’s good.”

She adds that consumers should visit these centers unannounced and not be afraid to ask questions.
Cindy Widdig, director of Baptist Health System’s Adult Day Service, is all for licensing too. She oversees a center on Old Canton Road in Jackson and one in Clinton that provide a full range of services and activities for the elderly. The staff consists of a nurse, social worker, activities director and several program assistants who are certified nursing assistants.

“It’s a wonderful program,” she says. “We provide meals, snacks, activities, entertainment, medication and nursing care, but the main focuses are on activities and socialization.”

The Baptist centers, opened six years ago, do take ill people and have patients with a multitude of problems along with several in wheelchairs and on walkers. They also run two bus routes although most of those attending are dropped off by caregivers. Some come for only two or three days per week.

Rates range from $42 to $61 per day, depending on the level of care, or $12 per hour. These centers have some funding through grants from Medicaid and the Central Mississippi Area Aging Agency’s respite program. Also, some long-term insurance policies pay for this care.

“When will the state wake up and fund these centers?” Widdig wonders. “We can be proactive and save money by keeping people out of hospitals and nursing homes.”

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health has a division of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia that currently operates adult day programs in Newton and Greenwood. This division also travels the state to provide free education and training for caregivers and family members of Alzheimer’s patients. Director Jennie Hillman says 52,000 people in the state have some form of the disease. These centers are funded by the state with the tobacco healthcare fund and the National Adult Day Association sets the standards of operation.

“Those guidelines are very stringent,” she said. “Both programs are excellent. Newton has a capacity for 25 and Greenwood for 20.”

Hillman doesn’t see the possibility of additional centers at this time because of the state’s funding problems.
“We’re doing a good job with what we have, but we need more,” she said, “and we need licensing. Right now, someone can paint their garage cobalt blue and call it an adult day care center. That’s alarming. We are one of the few states without licensure.”

The programs allow caregivers to continue to work and help families keep Alzheimer’s patients at home longer. In the long run, that saves the state money. “There was no such program for my own mother, and we had to put her in a nursing home,” said Hillman. “We will continue to try to find ways to serve these patients.”

Paula Mann is the director of the Mental Health Department’s Greenwood facility, Garden Park Adult Day Center. She says the cost of $12 per hour isn’t much compared to the cost of private sitters. “That’s if you can find a sitter. There aren’t many available in rural areas, and a lot of people can’t afford them if they do find them,” she said.

She says that although the center has been open five years, the concept is still new in the area and some marketing is needed. The center has been well received and anyone who enters must have a physician’s assessment. She sees a growing need for this service as people live longer and the economy requires more people to work past age 65.

“We are monitored by the state and we know how to handle emergencies,” she added. “People need to know their loved ones are cared for.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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