Four West Shore special needs teens too old for high school have found a temporary place to spend their days together.
The 19-year-olds and their three support workers have taken over the main room in Colwood-based Open Hearts Adult Day Care, where they’re continuing the life skills training they were receiving at Belmont secondary before they aged-out of the program.
“It’s so important to have them out and learning,” said Lynne DeFrane, whose son Ben has autism and requires one-on-one care. “Leaving Ben at home by himself is not an option.”
The group, who call themselves West Shore InclusionWorks, includes Ben, Shayne Downton—who has speech and motor skills similar to a three year old due to Dravet syndrome—and two women in wheelchairs, Corrine Eisenstein and Ciarra Blahitka, who have cerebral palsy.
The four spend part of their days at Open Hearts with an instructor from South Island Distance Education School and often make trips to the West Shore recreation centre or shopping mall. Everyone helps with household chores and grocery shopping. They convinced BC Transit to designate a Kelly Road bus stop as wheelchair accessible so the women could be picked up there.
“We’ve had a chance to test run the program (at Open Hearts), so we have a better idea of what we need for a permanent location,” DeFrane said.
The West Shore InclusionWorks parents had to scramble earlier this year to set up a day program for their young adults after finding out attending Belmont was no longer an option, and that no intensive special needs programs exist on the West Shore.
Open Hearts, a private facility originally aimed at day care for elderly adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s, has filled the gap, at least for now.
The parents are still hoping to find an more permanent apartment or a suite in someone’s home to move the group. The group only needs the space during business hours.
“It doesn’t have to be huge,” DeFrane said. “As long as it’s wheelchair accessible, or could be made wheelchair accessible, and close to a bus stop. We want to stay on the West Shore.”
“We’d be perfect tenants for someone who works during the day,” said support worker Linda McCulloch. “We’re gone in the evenings and weekends — they’d never even know we were there.”
Open Hearts owner Nicole Donaldson rented her space to the group for two months while she works on a plan to make her day care service more affordable families caring for a person with dementia. She believes the cost is the main reason she’s had few clients, so she’s asking Vancouver Island Health Authority to consider making Open Hearts a publicly funded centre.
“I’m asking them for a two year trial period,” Donaldson said, explaining that many people with dementia wind up in hospital beds while they wait for placement in a full-time care facility. “It would help free up beds to have some of those people here.”
She says her service costs half what a hospital bed does and would save the hospital $1.5 million per year if she was operating at her full 10-client capacity.
“I don’t want people to think Open Hearts is shutting down,” she said, noting that she’s still available to meet with potential clients and will have the full facility back to normal at the end of October.
If you have space that may fit the needs of InclusionWorks, or want information about the adult day care for people with dementia, call Open Hearts at 250-391-9827.