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Coronavirus In Ohio: Families Say Closure Of Adult Day Cares Has Taken A Toll

Jacqueline McFarquhar's mom, Beryline Hillaire, celebrating her 80th birthday at the adult day care center Active Day.
Courtesy of Jacqueline McFarquhar
Jacqueline McFarquhar's mom, Beryline Hillaire, celebrating her 80th birthday at the adult day care center Active Day.

Jacqueline McFarquhar’s mom, Beryline Hillaire, is 80 years old and has Alzheimer’s. For the last two years, Hillaire's been going to Active Day, an adult day care center near Cincinnati.

"Six days a week, and that was her choice," McFarquhar says, laughing. "I think she felt like she became a little bit popular there, ya know?" 

But when the pandemic hit Ohio, McFarquhar pulled Hillaire out of the program to protect her from COVID-19. Then Gov. Mike DeWine ordered centers like Active Day, which help care for people with dementia or disabilities, to close officially on March 23.

"From that point till now I can see a decrease in her memory, in just everything," McFarquhar says. "She’s more confused, she cries a lot more."

Hillaire is not the only one struggling with the changes: McFarquhar started working from her mom's house so she could take care of her around the clock. Juggling both her job and caretaking has proven challenging.

"The stuff that the center used to do, like the breakfast, and the lunch, and her medication, and stuff like that, I am solely responsible for that," McFarquhar says. "And you do what you have to do, but it’s a lot."

Adult day care centers can finally open their doors again Monday, six months after they were shuttered. They're among the last facilities permitted to reopen in Ohio, and operators and families alike say they’ve been suffering because of it.

In an emailed statement, the Ohio Department of Aging says the delay in reopening was because the centers are congregate settings, and because “participants in these programs are at higher risk for complications from the virus.”

While Ohio isn’t the last state to reopen these services, Howard Snyder – who runs Active Day adult day care centers across the country – says there were very few resources available in the state to help them stay afloat.

"Some states said, 'Hey you’re closed, but you’re a critical part of the safety net, you keep people out of higher cost settings, you keep people healthy, and we need to make sure this safety net business survives,' and they provided grant funding or retainer payments," Snyder says. 

Ohio didn’t do that, and as a result, Active Day is permanently closing one of two centers in Ohio, and is delaying the reopening of the other.

"It doesn’t make sense for us to open," Snyder says. "All we’re going to do is lose more money being open than we are now not being open. Because of the limited capacity, because of the testing requirements, and mostly, in large part, because of the transportation issue."

Many adult day care services rely on transportation companies to get participants safely from their homes to the center. But reopening requirements limit the number of people who can be picked up at one time, and some transportation services are declining because it isn’t cost effective for them.

The Ohio Department of Aging requires adult day centers to test all staff and participants to reopen, plus repeat testing at least once every other week. They are also requiring operators to remain at limited capacity, and to have personal protective equipment for participants and staff.

All of that’s difficult for centers who have been closed for months while still paying bills.

"We’ve just kind of drained what we had as far as resources," says Dean Washington, an adult day care provider on Columbus' East Side. "So we’re right at the edge, it was a good time to open back up because we’ve been hanging on by a thread."

Washington and his family have run Washington Adult Day Care for two decades. He says it’s still unclear how exactly the reopening requirements like testing will be carried out, and what help the state will offer to make them happen. Still, Washington Adult Day Care will be among those reopening Monday.

"It’s just like going to war," Washington says. "You’re going to have casualties. How many do you want to accept?"

Washington says he worries about the future: for his business, for his staff, and for the people who have come to rely on his program.