People who care for family members with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of memory loss may lose the place in Ashland where their loved ones can go for adult day care.

People who care for family members with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of memory loss may lose the place in Ashland where their loved ones can go for adult daycare.

The future of the Ashland Community Hospital Memory Care Center, formerly the Trinity Respite Center, is unknown.

The hospital board voted on Nov. 25 to withdraw financial support for the center on March 1, 2009, Carolyn Johnson, vice president of ancillary and support services for the hospital, said Wednesday evening.

The hospital contributes about $100,000 to $120,000 to the Memory Care Center's annual budget, which is about $310,000, said Elizabeth Hallett, administrative director for the center.

"It was a very difficult decision for the board to take because they know the great impact on the families," Johnson said. "But it's hard economic times for the hospital. Everything has to be looked at."

Economic hard times

The hospital is in the midst of an evaluation process of its operations, she said.

In the 2006-07 fiscal year, the hospital provided $6.3 million in uncompensated care. That figure jumped to $8.4 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year, Ashland Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Mark Marchetti said in September.

Hospitals across the county are struggling with low federal reimbursement rates for Medicare, an increase in the number of people without health insurance and rising costs, Marchetti said at that time.

The cost to the hospital of helping support the Memory Care Center has been growing. In the beginning, it was only loosely affiliated with the hospital, Johnson said.

The Ashland Community Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit, let the care center use its nonprofit status so the center could receive grants. Hospital staff handled the center's payroll and accounts payable work, Johnson said.

Then an attorney for the hospital raised a red flag that the hospital could get in trouble because care center staff were not paid as much as hospital staff. The Memory Care Center staff became hospital employees, boosting costs, Johnson said.

"The gap between grants and participant fees and costs has been growing and growing and growing," she said.

Hallett said she is thankful for the support the hospital and hospital foundation were able to give over the years. The care center has been operating in different locations since 1995.

"We need to appreciate what they've done. I'm very grateful to the hospital and the foundation," she said. "It's time for us to figure out a different strategy."

Patients can't reach center

In addition to facing a loss of hospital funding, the Memory Care Center has been hard hit by Rogue Valley Transportation District van service cutbacks.

RVTD vans can no longer deliver senior citizens and others to the Memory Care Center, which is located north of North Mountain Park on the campus of the Mountain Meadows retirement community.

Vans can't deliver people past the park because a budget deficit two years ago caused RVTD officials to decide van service can't extend more than 3/4 of a mile past regular bus routes.

RVTD vans once brought people to the Memory Care Center from all around the valley.

The center used to provide care for 14 to 16 people per day, but now only serves eight to 11 people per day, Hallett said.

Because of grant funding, a participant pays on a sliding scale of $0 to $89 per day, she said.

Hallett said a caregiver would have to pay about $30 to hire a private van company to transport a loved one to the center.

The center has not only lost participants because of the RVTD van service cutbacks, but center staff now must consider whether they can even stay in the building — which was custom-designed for memory loss patients.

Mountain Meadows co-founder Madeline Hill had been letting the center use the building for free for its first five years. She is continuing to give the center use of the building for a fee that is far below market value, Hallett said.

Hallett said the center needs to be in a more central location near a bus line, but rents are expensive elsewhere.

If the center could raise enough money, it could stay in the Mountain Meadows building and contract with a private van company to transport clients, Hallett said.

Future uncertain

The Memory Care Center has notified caregivers who use the center about a Monday meeting to discuss the situation and explore options, she said.

Hallett said the Memory Care Center is a vital resource for the entire Rogue Valley.

It gives people with memory loss a safe place to socialize, use and maintain their language skills and get help with tasks like going to the bathroom, she said.

"People have friends. They feel they belong. They have a lot of people who care about them, not just one," she said.

Caregivers can have Memory Care Center staff watch over their loved ones while they rest, work or run errands. That helps caregivers keep their loved ones at home longer, instead of placing them in institutional care — which can cost $4,200 to $6,000 per month, Hallett said.

She said that nationally, 40 percent of caregivers die before the people they are caring for pass away, in part because caregivers exhaust themselves.

"We should make support for caregivers a priority. We're going to need it increasingly. Caregivers are too forgotten in our society," Hallett said.

For more information about the Memory Care Center or to offer support with the financial crisis, call 482-2465.

Information about the center's history and its services for patients and caregivers can be found at www.ashlandhospital.org/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=43.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit www.dailytidings.com.