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Ashland dementia program loses funds

ASHLAND — A day-care center for people with memory loss and other forms of dementia faces an uncertain future.

The Memory Care Center at Ashland Community Hospital, formerly known as Trinity Respite Center, lost about one-third of its $310,000 operating budget when the hospital board of directors recently voted to withdraw financial support as of March 1, 2009.

"It was a very difficult decision for the board to make," said Carolyn Johnson, the hospital's vice president of ancillary and support services.

The Memory Care Center's advisory board will meet Dec. 30 to decide whether it can continue to operate in its present home at Mountain Meadows, said Elizabeth Hallett, administrative director.

"We'll be looking for other funding sources," Hallett said Thursday. "We'll be looking at a new business plan. We'll be open to ideas about a new location that would be closer to Medford or on transit lines."

The Memory Care Center provides day care for adults who receive most of their care at home from family members, giving the caregivers a respite from chores that can be overwhelming. It also provides training for in-home caregivers, and organizes support groups for families who are caring for someone with dementia.

"We serve about 90 to 100 families a year," Hallett said.

Hospitals across the country have been facing budget problems as more patients find themselves unable to pay for hospital care. Ashland Community Hospital's uncompensated care for the 2007-08 budget year jumped to $8.4 million, a 33 percent increase over the $6.3 million it lost in uncompensated care during the previous budget year.

The center was originally organized at Ashland's Trinity Episcopal Church. It became affiliated with the hospital's foundation as a way to receive grants, and hospital staff took over the business functions such as payroll and bill paying.

Johnson said an attorney pointed out potential legal problems with that arrangement because Memory Care staff were not paid as much as hospital employees. Memory Care staff then became hospital employees, which increased the costs of operating, Johnson said.

Grants and daily client fees could not keep up with escalating costs, she said. "The gap just kept getting wider."

Other factors have reduced the center's income, too. Cutbacks in public transit two years ago reduced the number of clients who came to the respite center. Rogue Valley Transportation District vans could no longer deliver clients to the center, which is located in Ashland's Mountain Meadows senior living development.

Hallett has notified clients about the situation, and she will be meeting with them Monday to talk about the center's options for the future.

Juanita Rosene of Ashland, whose husband has Alzheimer's disease, said she would be saddened to see the center close.

"It's a place where you can share your experiences and get support," she said. "You think you're alone, and then you find out everybody's going through this."

For information about the Monday meeting, call 482-2465.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.