Families distraught over Skokie adult day care center’s closing
Terry Velez of Skokie gets a warm welcome at a gathering in response to the announced closing of Great Opportunities of Skokie. Velez's mother attends the adult day care facility. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
What: Adult day-care program
Closing: July 6
Run by: Presbyterian Homes, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to creating communities for older adults.
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:35AM
The clock is ticking on about 50 residents of the Great Opportunities Adult Day program in Skokie, which is scheduled to close its doors in early July.
Evanston-based Presbyterian Homes’ abrupt announcement of the closing has left families, volunteers and staff emotional and wondering what they will do after July 6. Great Opportunities assists adults 60 and older who are mentally or physically challenged.
The program is run out of the basement of Evanshire Presbyterian Church, 4555 Church St., Skokie. It isn’t just the closing that upsets so many in the Great Opportunities community; Presbyterian Homes gave only 30 days notice at the same time the program’s executive director and staff were told.
Jim Slavish, who helped create the program in 1980, said he doesn’t agree with the decision to close, but even if he did, there are other issues.
“What I don’t understand is the unconscionable way they have gone about this,” he said.
Presbyterian Homes defended the program’s closing, stating that it complied with state law by providing the requisite 30 days. CEO and President Todd Swortzel this week said it was a coincidence that the letter was sent out when the executive director was on vacation.
“We feel that 30 days is sufficient to help people transition to another program,” he said.
But many clients and their families are protesting the decision, the relatively short notice and the timing of when it was delivered.
“I’m scared for the health of my mom, the health of every single person I see every day,” said Mary Coyne of Skokie who spearheaded the protest. “The care that they get is unprecedented. Since they announced this closure, my mom’s evenings have been very unsettled.”
Many Great Opportunities clients suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other significant impairment.
“People with Alzheimer’s grow familiar with their surroundings,” said Danny Chun, whose father attends Great Opportunities five days a week. “To suddenly interrupt their environment and to put them in a strange environment, that can be very difficult and very challenging.”
The Great Opportunities community is still hoping that the program can somehow be saved by finding a strong sponsor. But providing only a month’s notice makes that possibility more difficult, the community states, and they are seeking an extension.
Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen requested another 120 days for the facility to remain open.
“The decision of Presbyterian Homes has come as a complete surprise to the residents and concerned family members with little time to make alternative arrangements,” wrote the mayor in a letter to Swortzel.
Presbyterian Homes has not budged on the closing date.
“I’m sorry that we are unable to extend the deadline for 120 days as you requested,” Swortzel responded, “but we are making arrangements for our program participants to be served by another, similar program.”
That program is CJE SeniorLife Adult Day Services based in Evanston. Presbyterian Homes provided family visits there, and Swortzel himself visited before the closing was announced.
CJE’s Judy Holstein, director of adult day-care services, said she can’t guarantee that the facility will accommodate all Great Opportunities residents. It would depend on number of days they attend and other factors, she said.
But she believes the center can take in most of them. “We will do our best to serve anyone who wants to come,” she said.
Her facility also will consider hiring Great Opportunities staff members.
“We have the same mission as Great Opportunities,” Holstein said. “We know how much they loved going there and we believe they would feel the same way about here.”
The decision to close Great Opportunities was based on a recommendation by top management of Presbyterian Homes, Swortzel said. It was then approved by the 16-member board of directors, of which Swortzel is a non-voting member.
In his June 7 letter informing families of the closing, Swortzel said that the decision came in the wake of a new long-range strategic plan.
Great Opportunities continues to lose money, he said. He did not provide an exact amount, but when told that some people have mentioned $100,000 to $150,000 a year, Swortzel said it’s likely quite a bit more.
Slavish, who served as program director of the Niles Township Sheltered Workshop when the program was created, said Great Opportunities was one of the first adult day-care centers in the area.
Niles Township Sheltered Workshop eventually aligned with Thresholds, a provider of mental health services, to run the program. Thresholds gave up the program, providing Niles Township Sheltered Workshop with time to find another sponsor.
That’s when Presbyterian Homes stepped in.
Now retired, Slavish said he did not expect the program to close.
“I was surprised and very upset,” he said. “This is my baby. I lost two close friends this week and they say things come in threes. This seems like the third death.”
While Swortzel noted Great Opportunities is not an overnight facility, families who have loved ones there count on it every week.
Ursula’s husband, 81, suffers from severe depression.
“He sometimes doesn’t want to go in the morning but when I pick him up, he’s so happy,” she said, not wanting to give her last name. “He’s relaxed. It’s pulling something out of him to be there and gives him something to do. Because at home, he will not do anything.”
John Chun of Skokie, an Alzheimer’s patient, attends five days a week.
“He’s happy there,” said his wife, Young. “Over there, I don’t know what they do but he comes home smiling. There’s nothing for him like that.”
Claudia Brittain, 96, of Skokie, says she loves planting flowers and taking t’ai chi there. Just talking about Great Opportunities plants a huge smile on her face.
“For me, it provides the level of support for my mom that’s needed,” said her daughter, Beaulah Cheeks. “Without that, she would be home, not active, not getting the kind of activity that’s healthy. My own lifestyle would change totally.”
These are comments voiced repeatedly when talking to Great Opportunities families. They say the facility has saved and extended loved ones’ lives. Staff and fellow clients have become like close family.
“I see life in these people, and I’m afraid if this is taken away from all them who have learned to love and appreciate life, I don’t know what will happen,” said Terry Velez, Coyne’s sister.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Jilliy, worries about her grandmother.
“I love my grandma and it will be really sad if she can’t go there anymore,” she said. “It keeps her active every day.”
Volunteers are also taking the news hard.
“People are so happy when they go there,” said Glorys Yarzagaray who has worked at Great Opportunities for 26 years.“It’s part of their family and it’s part of my family. We’ve got to save it.”
As of a few years ago, the average age of clients at Great Opportunities was 79, 22 percent of them had Alzheimer’s disease and 47 percent lived below the poverty level, according to Presbyterian Homes.
“When this program disappears,” said Joy Feldstein, a 32-year volunteer and original member of the board of directors, “the 50-odd clients that we have may one by one by one go to different kinds of programs. But the all-around high standards of this program that we have from social services to arts and crafts to drama to everything else is unique.
“As a community,” she said emphatically, “this is a program we all should be fighting to keep.”