Plan to privatize adult day care stirs protest Family members say they can't afford to pay more

March 20, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Fear, desperation and anger were evident among those gathered yesterday at Dundalk's seniors center to protest Baltimore County's plan to privatize its three adult day care centers.

Twenty-five people, some elderly themselves, gathered while family members most suffering from senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease were entertained downstairs at the former Patapsco Elementary School on Holabird Avenue.

Diane Weiss, 28, said she's single and cares for her widowed 62-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. Her grandmother just entered a nursing home and she needs her mother to be in adult day care so she can work, she said. "She can't stay home alone. I can't quit my job and I can't support her," Ms. Weiss said, tears welling up.

At 60, Mary Bennett is caught in an emotional vise caring for her 18-month-old grandson and her 80-year-old arthritic mother.

"She's in a wheelchair and she cries all day long, except when she comes home from the center," Mrs. Bennett said of her mother.

The protesters fear that the centers' operators will ask to be paid $60 a day to take care of people who earn only $500 a month in Social Security instead of the sliding fees, starting at $5 a day, that are now in effect.

They are angry primarily because they weren't consulted before the decision was made to jettison the county's $540,000 portion of the program.

"The only reason you're doing this now is because you think old people will bring the least objection from voters," an angry Charles Mentzer, 79, told county Department of Aging Director Charles L. Fisher Jr. Mr. Mentzer and his wife care for his 89-year-old sister.

The three centers, in Towson, Dundalk and Catonsville, serve 150 people, most of whom come several days a week in county buses.

Mr. Fisher said he had to cut his budget 11 percent. He said he believed he couldn't cut seniors centers because cuts in 1993 had closed four centers and reduced the staffs at the other 18.

"It didn't matter what we did. Someone was going to get hurt," he said, adding that a strong private industry of adult day care providers has grown in the 12 years the county has operated the program.

Eight private operators have inquired about taking over the program, he said, and any rent the county earns from such a contract would be used to continue the subsidies, along with state and federal money.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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