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Sunday seniors: As one adult day center closes, another eyes reopening

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2020 9:55:17 PM
Modified: 10/24/2020 9:55:15 PM

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, senior centers and other facilities that assisted older adults shut down.

Adult day centers — which provide care to older adults and respite services to their caregivers — have struggled. After months of trying to stay afloat and experimenting with virtual programming, the Oxbow Senior Independence Program in Newbury, Vt., announced that it was permanently closing in October after more than 30 years in operation.

“Remote doesn’t seem to work for older adults with cognitive problems. They don’t understand who the disembodied voices are in the room,” OSIP board president Robin Barone said in an interview earlier this month. “If the caregivers have to sit, help their loved ones get online and work through the virtual program, it’s not exactly a break for them. We felt our mission wasn’t being served.”

OSIP, a nonprofit organization, received COVID-19 relief funding to get the program up and running, but they faced other challenges such as unreliable internet.

“Frankly there came a point where we thought, ‘How could we in good conscience keep accepting this federal money?’ ” Barone explained, adding that they planned on returning some of the funding. “We didn’t feel it was really ethical for the board to keep accepting state funding to keep this limping along when we don’t know what the outcome was going to be.”

While Vermont has given clearance for adult day centers to reopen, OSIP’s program is also located in a senior living facility, and the board was worried about the risk of exposing residents.

“When the participants went home at the end of the day, we would have no control over what happened,” Barone said. “We’re not at the point where we can do a daily test and have results.”

At the time OSIP closed in March, it had seven participants. Of those, three or four tried the remote programming.

“It just seemed like we’d be spinning our wheels and eventually have to close because we wouldn’t have any participants or any financial support,” Barone said.

Scotland House in Quechee, which opened in November 2018, is working on a plan to reopen. While it typically has space for up to 14 participants, the new COVID-19 regulations released by the state stipulate that it can have only six, said Gretchen Cole, the nonprofit organization’s executive director. Staff members must have a plan approved by the state before Scotland House can reopen.

“It is recommended that Adult Day Centers prioritize participation for people who are at lower risk, are able to wear a mask or face covering while at the center, and are able to understand and follow distancing and hand hygiene protocol,” one of the guidelines from the state reads. “Participants are encouraged to talk to their health care provider to assess their risk and to determine if they should attend Adult Day.”

Instead of gathering in the same spot, participants will have their own separate, socially distanced activity stations. Staff will greet participants outside Scotland House, instead of caregivers bringing them inside like they used to.

“The first couple weeks when we closed, families were doing OK then we started to notice it was becoming much more stressful,” Cole said. “We are still getting calls and we still have participants who are of concern to us.”

Staff worked on reaching out to families and organizing some virtual gatherings. They also put together activity packets for participants.

“One thing that’s been the most popular was just a group of participants that met and it was just nice for them to be able to chat with each other, not having anything structured,” Cole said. “The need for adult day programming did not go away with COVID, and I think that that’s part of why it is important for us to reopen, but to reopen as safely as we possibly can because we do have an at-risk population.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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