COLUMBIA — A new Alzheimer’s center planned by The Bluffs, a Columbia senior citizen service corporation, will receive $810,588 in federal funds from an omnibus bill signed recently by President Bush.
Barton Boyle, The Bluffs’ president of the board, welcomed the passage of the bill, after three years of waiting for approval. Boyle said The Bluffs is still seeking financial support for construction of the center from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and expects to receive it during 2008. “If we are fortunate, the construction might start in 2009,” he said.
Boyle said planning and design for the new center have yet to be finalized, and he is unsure about the construction cost. The development of the plan was initiated five years ago. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who championed money for The Bluffs, visited the current facility to discuss a possible Alzheimer’s center three years ago.
“The senator’s support of this project goes hand-in-hand with his work on the national level on Alzheimer’s research, prevention, treatment and caregiver support with (Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.),” said Shana Marchio, a spokesperson for Bond.
Marchio said that Bond thinks this project will offer care and hope to those suffering from the disease. Bond and Mikulski’s Alzheimer’s research bill passed the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions last year, and Bond hopes the full Senate will pass the bill this year, Marchio said.
“We were chosen for the funds because we are the only not-for-profit, privately owned facility in Boone County and because (of) our interest in providing this specialized service and our willingness to incorporate new technology,” Boyle said.
According to the plan, the Alzheimer’s center will be located next to The Bluffs’ current units; it will add 24 special care units in a building that includes two wings, a courtyard and a storefront. Karen Enyard, director of the current Alzheimer’s wing, said The Bluffs is reviewing current research to improve designs for the new center.
“We are going to have a theater, a bar, a barber shop, a laundry, an area for performances, a pet shop, a floral shop and facilities that make people feel like home,” she said.
The federal funds will be used to purchase equipment and technologies to assist patients who need around-the-clock care.
“We will incorporate new technology and new physical systems that might help make a patient more self-sufficient and comfortable,” Boyle said. The needed equipment includes electronics such as computers, cameras and sensory equipment. Among the technological innovations The Bluffs is considering are special flooring designs to reduce impact of falls and equipment that tells the location of a resident and can sense physical movement such as getting up from the bed.
Boyle said the new center will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Our facilities will not be advantageous for people with advanced symptoms who would require total care,” he said. “We can better serve people who are in beginning and intermediate stages.” But he also said that when the patients reach the stage when they are unable to get up, eat and move, more nursing care will be provided in special units.
The care provided at The Bluffs will not cure the disease but will help patients through interaction and socialization, Enyard said.
Currently there are 128 patients living at The Bluffs. The organization was established 10 years ago. It was located adjacent to Boone Hospital Center before moving to its present location at Bluff Creek Drive about five years ago. The Bluffs’ board is composed of people chosen by Boone Hospital Center, the University of Missouri and the Boone County Commission.
Boyle said that residents of the nursing home have often been in Boone Hospital Center before going to The Bluffs for nursing care. The organization has shared research efforts with the MU schools of Medicine and Nursing and plans to provide space for MU researchers in the new center.
The new center will provide more residential care options for people with Alzheimer’s who can afford these facilities, said Linda Newkirk, executive director at the mid-Missouri chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Major round-the-clock nursing care providers such as The Bluffs and a similar facility, The Arbors, are currently operating at capacity, with 16 units at the Arbors and 14 units at The Bluffs fully occupied.
At least 110,000 people across the state have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; 15,000 in mid-Missouri, according to statistics from Alzheimer’s Association’s mid-Missouri chapter.
People in middle and progressive stages of the disease tend to suffer more from memory degradation. Eventually, they have different sleeping patterns and are unable to care for themselves. Taking care of them means constant assistance from caregivers.
“It’s sometimes impossible for the caregivers to get groceries for fear that their loved ones might wander away,” Newkirk said.
Newkirk cites research saying that more families choose to keep people with Alzheimer’s at home rather than in residential care. Expense is one of the major reasons. At The Bluffs, for example, it costs a resident about $145 a day to stay, Boyle said. Cumulative expenses for years of care can mean a financial burden for families without means and long-term insurance coverage.
“There are not enough care facilities available for people with Alzheimer’s disease to provide relief for caregivers,” Newkirk said.