Centers Viewed as Alternative to Nursing Homes : Arizona Provides Day Care for Elderly

Associated Press

When Eddie Trujillo, 77, suffered a stroke 1 1/2 years ago, it transformed an active man into one who spends his days in a wheelchair.

Margaret Mayes, 85, suffered a broken hip in a fall three years ago. She is a bit more ambulatory than Trujillo but still needs a walker to get around.

If their misfortunes had occurred five years ago, they probably would have been sent to a nursing home by respective families experiencing the burnout of caring for an invalid. Now, however, they and their families have been spared that painful choice.

In this town, the alternative is called the Prescott Senior Day Care Center.

"I couldn't have done it by myself," said Bea Trujillo, Eddie's wife of 32 years. "And I'm sure he'd be in a nursing home if it weren't for the center."

When Eddie Trujillo went home from the hospital after the stroke, he weighed 89 pounds. He could not lift a finger to help his wife transfer him from his wheelchair to his bed. Now, he is helping himself and is up to 107, close to his pre-illness weight.

"More important, he's a lot happier," Mrs. Trujillo said.

Margaret Mayes still lives in the house she was born in. Her daughter, Mildred McNeil, who works at the Veterans Administration Medical Center here, said that the day care center "has helped mother immensely, as well as helping me." Above all, McNeil said, the center has enabled her to keep her mother at home.

There are 11 such centers in Arizona, all the rest in metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson.

"There should be more," Susan Rheem, the program director, said, "because I'm convinced there are many people in nursing homes now who don't need to be in one and don't want to be in one."

Nursing Home Boom

Nursing homes are being built in Arizona at what Rheem views as an alarming rate. Officials with the state Department of Health Services say that five or six licensed homes are opening each month.

"The question is: what do we want?" Rheem said. "Bigger and better nursing homes or something like this? We're offering people a chance to stay in their homes."

The senior day care centers are in their infancy. The first one was set up in Phoenix four years ago. The largest in the state has an average of 43 participants a day. The Prescott center has an enrollment of 50 and a daily participant level of 25.

Although popular, the day care centers face some problems, most of them financial.

In Prescott, for example, participants are billed $3.25 an hour, but numerous exceptions are made for those who cannot afford the fee. This means that the center operates on a shoestring.

The first two years of the 3-year-old Prescott center were rather difficult, Rheem said, mainly because center activities were shifted from one church basement to another. Early last year, however, the center's board of directors started a fund-raising drive, and the center moved into its own building. The center's only long-term debt is a mortgage for the land on which the building sits.

A typical day at the Prescott center includes exercise and mental stimulation. Yavapai College's retirement program sponsors three courses: exercise, memory improvement and Arizona history.

Rheem says that the most important element is the center's health program, which includes diet, exercise and checkups by a registered nurse.

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