Commentary: Cuts to respite care program impact our seniors

Recently we learned that the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors voted to make a significant reduction in funding for the Other Place Respite Care Program, which is part of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging. Such a reduction in services for some of our most vulnerable citizens is reprehensible.

Allen’s 84-year-old mother, who has dementia/Alzheimer’s, is a participant in this program. Her participation in this program resulted in a significant improvement in her behavior and quality of life and was something that she looks forward to very much. A day in the program brings her valuable social interaction, lots of laughter and exercise — both physical and mental, as well as a safe environment and loving care. Her spirits are lifted very high each day she participates. She has made significant improvements in the short two months she has participated in the program. To take this away would result in a downhill slide for her. There are not any other programs in this area that we are aware of that provides such support and comfort to people like her.

Our elderly and disabled citizens of this county are still valuable members of our society and should be given the highest degree of respect and care that we can provide. To take what little support they have away from them is to show that we do not care about them. Those who would support taking this care away have no heart or compassion. Personally, we believe cutting this program gives the county a black eye and may even prevent people from retiring to a place that has little support for them in their future. It’s very possible that not too far in the future you or I will also need such a program to help us through our final years with peace and dignity. We really hope it will be there for us and other county residents. Otherwise, a move to another county might be justified.

Instead of cutting funding, we strongly believe it should not only be restored fully but increased to give these fine people resources that they can’t get otherwise. It would be a great benefit to Allen’s mother and other participants if the program were offered five days a week instead of the current three days that will be reduced to two days come July 1.

For those not aware of the program, it is not free. It is offered at a fair fee — based on the individual’s ability to pay. As caregivers we also pay into the program through our taxes, both personal and through the two businesses we have in the county. The county supervisors do not hesitate to direct how our money is spent and since we elect them to their positions they should allow the community to help direct how this money is allocated.

The idea of cutting the program was brought up swiftly and quietly and when we found out about it, it was too late for us to do anything. The motion was brought up by Marsha Shruntz and Cindy Bailey and passed through (not unanimously) without any consideration to those whose lives they have affected.

Personally, this particular program is invaluable to our household as her caregiver since both my wife and I own and operate two separate businesses in Shenandoah County. Because our work takes us from home each day, we can’t provide the high quality resources to her that this program offers and operate our businesses successfully.  It is also very beneficial in delaying Allen’s mother being put into a nursing home. We want her to enjoy as much of what’s left of her life as possible and this program definitely makes a significant difference. Our story is just  one of the many success stories that have come from the services that Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging offers to our aging county residents and their caretakers – there are many more. Why not distribute funds to help those who have contributed to the success of the county and to those who need it most? We urge residents to contact their county supervisor and encourage him or her to give careful consideration to reinstating full funding and consider expanding this program.

Peggy and Allen Easterly, of Basye, own Image Grafx and Printing and Rendezvous Farm in Shenandoah County.