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Rockingham County residents wary of nursing home cuts

Union Leader Correspondent

February 18. 2013 7:55PM
Beth Spead, left, and her sister, Nancy Russo, share a moment with their mother, Elizabeth Jones, 91, before she plays a game of Bingo at the Adult Medical Day Program at the Rockingham County Nursing Home in Brentwood. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

BRENTWOOD - Pam Locke doesn't know what she'd do without the Adult Medical Day Program at the Rockingham County Nursing Home.

"I'm doing a lot better since I started coming here. You can't sit around the house 24/7. I'd go nuts if I was stuck at home all the time," said the 66-year-old Exeter woman, who's been participating in the program for the last 10 years.

Locke is among the two dozen participants who live at home but rely on the program at least a few days a week for social support, recreational activities, exercise, nursing supervision, therapy and other services.

The program was the first in the state when it was launched 30 years ago, but families with loved ones who participate fear it could be in jeopardy.

Rockingham County Commissioner Katharin Pratt of Hampton said the program is just one of the areas that's been looked at as commissioners try to find ways to cut costs.

The program, which charges $71 a day for a private pay rate, is facing a $100,000 deficit and continues to lose money year after year, she said. While it can accommodate close to 50 people, she said the number of participants is only about half that.

A subcommittee has been organized to evaluate the program.

Meanwhile, the jail portion of the county budget is on the rise due to an increase in the inmate population and higher food and medical costs associated with inmate care, among other things, Pratt said.

The new county budget is up for a vote March 5, and at the moment $278,000 is included in the spending plan to fund the Adult Day Medical Program for the next year, said Commissioner Tom Tombarello of Sandown.

But that doesn't mean people like Nancy Russo and her sister, Beth Spead, aren't worried. Their 91-year-old mother, Elizabeth Jones, participates in the program three times a week and they worry the program could still face the axe down the road.

"From an emotional standpoint, if they cut the program it's going to greatly affect my mother, and I know many others. Right now the only thing they look forward to is getting up in the morning and coming here and being with their friends and doing things. You take that away and they wither," said Russo, who cares for her mother at their Epping home.

Russo credited the staff with saving her mother's life. On one occasion, she said they found her mother's pulse was extremely low and she ended up in the hospital that day with a new pacemaker. Another time, she said they discovered her mother's blood pressure was low because a wire in her pacemaker had fractured.

Tombarello has received about 40 letters of support for the program and has returned about 15 phone calls from people fearing it'll be lost. He said he now supports keeping the program after hearing the many success stories, like the one about a woman who was in a wheelchair and is now using a walker after participating in the program.

"I think some programs are worth saving and I think this is worth it," he said.

Cutting the program could force some participants into a nursing home because their spouses or caretakers are still working, Russo said. From a financial standpoint, Russo insists it makes more sense to keep people in the day program because it's less expensive for the county than long-term care at the nursing home.

"A lot of states are funneling more and more money into adult day programs like this because they now see the advantage of keeping the people active and then a lot of them end up in a nursing home for a much shorter time. When you're paying $71 a day as a private person coming to a program like this versus $350 a day to go stay in a nursing home, that makes a huge difference," Russo said.

Spead, of Brentwood, also praises the program and its staff for the positive impact it's had on her mother since she began coming 2½ years ago.

"It gives us peace of mind knowing that they're here and that they're getting socialization and they're getting services. They're getting social attention and physical attention as well and it's keeping their mind sharper. When they get to be this age it's a concern," she said.

Ken Smith, 76, of Brentwood, said he looks forward to attending the program twice a week. He said he enjoys socializing with others, playing games, exercising, and taking walks around the nursing home.

Epping resident Judy Golden, 72, comes for the same reasons.

"I love the people. I love the nurses. I get some good exercise," she said.

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